Easter Weekend: on how art echoes purpose & hope in a desperate world

Easter Weekend_ on how art echoes purpose & hope in a desperate world.png

It’s Easter weekend – but you already knew that.

 

In past years blogging, I’ve made a big deal about this holiday – my favorite holiday, that is – and written posts, and tweets, and I’ve jumped up and down over what Easter means to me.

 

This year’s a little different.

 

Not because I’m not excited, no. I’m thrilled. But Easter means something a little different to me this year, something a little deeper, something I hold a little tighter to my heart than in years past.

 

This day means everything to me, and it’s difficult to find the words to describe it well. Continue reading

Why I Hate Four O’Clock and Fridays

why-i-hate-four-oclock-and-fridays

It’s sheer irony that I’m writing this at four o’clock on a Friday afternoon.

 

This post has been gradually constructing itself in my head for a few months now, through the ups and downs of assignments and writing projects and stress and joy and all the lovely and not-so-lovely things that my life’s made up of.

 

Every day, around four o’clock in the afternoon, I get this feeling I can’t quite explain. It’s something of dread, of feeling as though I’ve wasted the day, this overwhelming sense of not-enough-ness.

 

It’s weird.

 

And Fridays, you know, “Thank God it’s Friday?” Those days send me into a panicked frenzy…because there’s something that’s taken me a few YEARS to fully understand, but it’s been here for a while:

 

It’s the feeling that the weekend’s finally here, but I haven’t done enough.

Continue reading

For When We Just Don’t Feel Like It

for when we just don't feel like it

 

“I don’t feel like it today.”

 

The whisper leaves my lips as I struggle to understand what I’m really saying.

 

“I don’t want to pray right now.”

 

It’s shameful to admit. When feelings drive me toward to a place of deception and poor judgment.

 

“I don’t want to read my Bible today.”

 

I’ve felt that feeling all too often. Now, let me get things straight before I say something I don’t mean.

Continue reading

Christians, Other People Are Not the Real Enemy.

Christians, Other People Are Not the Real Enemy.

 

Christians, other people are not the real enemy.

 

In the crazy world we live in, its so easy to think that everyone hates us, everyone opposes us, and we’re the only ones that are “right.”

 

It’s easy to stand back and judge the world, those people who we refer to as our “enemies.”

And yeah, we probably have good reason to.

 

The people that want to take away our freedoms – freedoms to speak and think as we please – those people, well, they’re not our favorite.

 

But those very same people that we’re shouting “You’re the enemy!” at, we’re simultaneously judging. And that’s not okay.

Continue reading

More of My Book! (Theme: Overcoming Anxiety)

More of My Book! (Theme_ Overcoming Anxiety)

Hi again, friends!

 

Whoa. I can’t believe it’s already Tuesday again.

 

Last Tuesday, I was in Puerto Rico with a really close friend of mine, Gabriela, and our families. It was AMAZING. Gabs and I stayed up really late writing for NaNoWriMo and blogging and talking and baking and watching movies and laughing.

 

So I miss that. A lot. Here’s a picture of us in a coffee shop drinking expensive and delicious latte frappes, all the while pretending like I would never have to go home.

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And here’s us under a nice tree with the ocean in the background, in the SWELTERING sun, trekking through famous forts and ports and such.

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I mention all this because…it was in Puerto Rico where I started writing my book.

 

Hadn’t heard the news? Yep, I’m writing a book! I shared the news last Saturday, and you can read about that here. And then, because I was really excited about it, I decided to share a portion of my first chapter of that book. Want to read it if you haven’t already? Right here.

 

As I said last Tuesday, the format and style is a little different than a regular blog post of mine. Why? Because while writing is writing, blogging and book-writing are two totally different arts. I find books to be a bit more formal, but can still take on different tones based on audiences.

 

 

So apparently, you all liked my sneak peek that I shared (???). I got so much encouragement, and it inspired me so much, so I decided to share another snippet.

 

For those of you who aren’t interested, don’t worry. My Saturday post will be a regular one, and if I continue to share sections, that’ll only be a Tuesday occurrence.

 

Today’s segment of chapter 1 is on anxiety.

 

That is, anxiety over the past, the present, the future, and how to overcome it all.

 

Anxiety Over the Past

 

Have you ever done something that you thought was a good idea at the time, and later realized how stupid it was? And then regretted it for years?

Yes, I think we all have. Whether we’ve done something that has hurt ourselves or has hurt someone else, we all have things we wish we hadn’t done. Things we feel would make life oh-so-much better if they hadn’t happened.

I can only “get” so much of what regret feels like, seeing as though I’m only a teenager, but we all have things that weigh on us because we feel guilty.

And for a lot of us, we can become anxious because of it, and for a few reasons.

We may be afraid that healing is impossible. We may be afraid that we’ll never be forgiven. We may be afraid that we’ll repeat our mistakes. These are valid feelings and fears – but we cannot live bogged down by what is in the past.

Anxious fear, while it is completely legitimate and we should not try to explain it away, is not to be suffered in alone.

God has made us new in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). He does not count our pasts against us, so why should we do it of ourselves?

Why should we live chained to the fear that we’ll mess up again?

Why should we live so caught up in what is over and done that we miss what is right in front of us?

God has forgiven us, and He wants to see us forgive ourselves. To move on, to focus on the greater things He has for us.

Oh, again, this isn’t some easy task that requires the push of a button and three clicks of our heels. Healing from anxiety over the past takes time, but God loves us and His patience never runs out on us. He’s always there for us to come back to and see our worth, to see that we’re forgiven, to see that we’re loved, and to know that He will never leave us to handle our problems alone.

 

Anxiety Over the Present

 

Present anxiety seems to me to be the toughest to deal with.

The panic of, “What am I doing?!” and “Where am I supposed to be?” and “How do I know if people actually care about me?”

Friends, I know what it feels like.

I know what it feels like to sit paralyzed, holding the phone, not knowing if I should call someone because I’m terrified to be rejected.

I know what it’s like to lay in my bed and cry for what feels like an eternity because I’m so afraid I’m going to mess up my life.

I have felt every ounce of pain when I’m convinced I must be doing the wrong thing, or I picked the wrong career path, or I’ve come so far that I can’t be fixed.

It’s paralyzing and petrifying, and that’s when I’m the most anxious.

See, I know the Bible says to be anxious for nothing in Philippians 4, and that by prayer, we should let our requests be known to God and He will give us peace.

I know all the verses. I know I should cast my cares on Him because He really does care for me.

But when I am in the middle of it, I freeze. I forget that there is a solution to my misery. I forget that I am loved and counted righteous no matter what I do. I feel like I have no hope.

But my feelings are incorrect. The feelings – those same feelings that are such a part of my personality – are wrong about one thing: Truth.

The truth that God will never leave me or forsake me, especially when I’m struggling, is never more true than when I feel like I’m alone.

The truth that I am loved with an everlasting love is not conditional, for it does not change when I feel unlovable.

The truth that I can be content and have joy in all situations is not dependent on my material possessions or circumstances, but upon a God who does not change.

When I feel the most anxious over what’s going on in my life, when I’m paralyzed with fear, and when it hurts like it never has before, the promises of God still stand.

 

Anxiety Over the Future

 

I once was utterly panicked over where I’d be in the years ahead.

In middle school and in the years before, I had absolutely no desire to go to college because I was afraid that I’d change my mind about what I wanted to do.

One day, I wanted to be a teacher. The next, I wanted to be a hairdresser. A week later, I decided I wanted to be a writer, and a little after that, I decided writing was much too difficult and I’d like to simply be a mother instead.

Thinking about the future – five, ten, fifteen years in advance – sent me into a bit of a panic. What if I get a degree in something that I decide I hate? What if the first day on my dream job is a flop and I start questioning my existence? What if I fail? What if I never marry?

And the panic-filed “what-ifs” cluttered my mind until my future planning almost became nonexistent.

Of course I knew that anxiety wasn’t really healthy for me. Of course I’d been told that God was in control. But did I believe it? I don’t know if I did.

Somewhere in my mind, and I assume in the minds of others, we think that we have to do everything alone. I think we have it in our minds that God holds the future, but hold in our hearts the burden that we have to handle everything ourselves. While this seems like such a paradox, it’s a prevalent mindset.

In a way, it’s connected to the stress ordeal – we think we must handle everything, know everything, be in control. But we don’t.

The best liberation from anxiety over the future is knowing that God is bigger than anything. He is bigger than our stress, He is bigger than our anxiety and fears. Nothing surprises Him, and nothing is too hard for Him to handle.

But what about our pain? What about the fact that life is really scary and unpredictable, and so many times we really don’t know what to do?

Pain exists. Anxiety is real. But God is more powerful than anything we struggle with, and He is worthy of our trust. He’ll never let us down.

It’s not worth it to live in a state of anxiety, yet in those times, we must cling to God the most instead of running from Him. Can life be terrifying? Absolutely. But nothing is terrifying to God. He wants us to run to Him in our pain so that we can grow in our relationship with Him.

Is it hard? Yeah, it is. And I won’t pretend that I know it all or that I have a perfect life.

But whatever the state of our lives may be, God does not change. He always wants us to look to Him in the midst of our problems. No, we can’t do this life alone – and that, friends, is alright.

*aj

Dear Christian Teens: You Were Made for More (+ EXCITING NEWS!)

Dear Christian Teens_ You Were Made for More (+ EXCITING NEWS!)

 

Dear Christian Teens,

 

You were made for more. You were made to do great things. And it all starts right here.

 

I understand what it’s like to be stressed out over school and work and life in general. I understand the pressures we face from all sides – the pressure to be perfect, the pressure to give into temptation, the pressure to be consumed with busyness – it’s rough.

 

But we don’t have to give into the pressure.

 

People are going to tell us (if they haven’t already) that the teen years are all about fun. Partying. Living it up. Chilling out, messing around.

 

And then after we turn eighteen, get shipped off to college, and come out somewhat alive, we’ll be ready for a fantastic life. Get a good job, get engaged, and hopefully find something fulfilling in our lives. Maybe add a little religion to our busyness. Can’t hurt, right?

 

But that’s not the right message in my estimation.

 

Because if the time we turn thirteen until the last day of being nineteen is used to just get by, what will the rest of our lives look like?

 

If we don’t learn how we should live now, how will we know how to live when we’re adults?

 

If we don’t invest in our faith now, how do we expect to be mature Christians later?

 

If we don’t love others now, how do we expect to love our future families?

 

If we don’t practice serving God now, how do we think we’ll be effective in the future?

 

But this shouldn’t be discouraging. No, now is a great time to make the most of our lives.

 

Today I turned sixteen. I’m finally starting to grasp what it means to be a teenager, though not by the standard of the culture.

 

I’m learning what it means to prepare myself for my life instead of just getting away with the bare minimum. And to be honest, it’s a difficult lesson to learn.

 

But I’m investing in my faith by studying the Bible regularly. I’m learning how to be discerning. I’m learning how to use my personality to serve God the most effectively. I’m finding the roots of my faith.

 

And you know what? These are some of the most fulfilling things I have ever done.

 

Working hard is scary, I know. It’s easy to watch Netflix all summer instead of getting a job. It’s easy to be lazy (which is different from rest, by the way). It’s easy to disrespect our parents, and it’s easy to think that we always know best.

 

Taking cues from authority figures will truly lead us in the right direction. Learning how to work hard now will help us develop a good work ethic for our adult lives. Knowing why we believe what we believe is so important in having a strong faith.

 

But it doesn’t have to be painful.

 

It doesn’t have to stress us out.

 

No, in our stress from everyday life, we can grow our faith and strengthen our relationship with God. We can find comfort and peace, instead of anxiety. Instead of freaking out over not knowing how to be productive, we can pursue efficiency while there’s less pressure.

 

We can surprise the people around us who expect us to rebel by being kind, loving, and patient.

 

Dear Christian Teens, you really were made for more. More than just scraping by.

 

And instead of being crushed by the pressures, we can live with hope. Hope that we are never alone. Hope that God will always lead us. And hope that this isn’t the end.

 

Oh, guess what! I have exciting news. Gabriela and Nadine persuaded me to participate in Camp NaNoWriMo this month. Which means…I AM WRITING A BOOK!

 

Crazy, right? When you all took my survey, I got lots of people begging me to please write a book. That made me happy, and motivated me to actually pursue writing more than just 700-word blog posts. And I’ve actually gotten most of my book outlined, but here is where you guys come in.

 

If you want a certain topic to be addressed in more detail than I would be able to on this blog, TELL ME. Even if I’ve addressed the topic on the blog before, LET ME KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE BOOK. Comment on a post of mine, shoot me an email, tweet me, or whatever floats your boat.

 

I WANT YOUR INPUT!

 

Hopefully, by the end of April, I will have written 25,000 words. Who knows if that will actually happen, but I am going to try. Pray for me, peeps! Thank you all!

 

*aj

My Top 6 Favorite Blog Posts [and why I love them]

My Top 6 Favorite Blog Posts [and why I love them]

Hi, everyone.

 

I rarely talk about myself on my blog. And I guess the main reason behind that is that as much as I own this site, and I’m the exclusive writer on here, I don’t want this blog to be just about me – I want this to be about all of us as we grow in our faith. But mostly, I want it to be a place where we can all be encouraged about our amazing God and how much He loves us.

 

However, I wanted to let you all know that this isn’t going to be a regular post today. As of right now, I’m in bed, feeling pretty miserable – I’m sick with strep throat. I don’t know how I’ve never had it before, but I definitely would have remembered it if I did. So even though I sat on the couch all day, I didn’t have the energy to write anything significant.

 

Instead, I decided to compile a list of some of my favorite posts I’ve written. That way, for those of you who haven’t been reading a while, you might find some you haven’t seen before.

 

I’m A Christian, And Also An Introvert

 

I wrote this post to express my feelings on how God can use us right here, right where we are. I needed to hear it myself, since I think we (as Christian) often fail to include EVERYONE on the list of “who can serve God.” Bottom line? We all can.

 

It’s Okay Not To Be A Writer.

 

I wrote this one when I felt like I was doing something wrong – when I felt like I should have been writing books, when in reality, I didn’t feel called to that. See my conclusion in this post.

 

The Problem With The “Christian” Label

 

One thing that bothers me a lot is when false doctrine is passed off as truth because it’s called “Christian.” See how to combat that lie here.

 

“Is That A Sin?” How To Live In Freedom

 

The question is tossed around in the Christian community regarding everything. “Is it wrong if Christians ____?” But really, we must look at it from a different perspective. Find out how.

 

Don’t Regret Where You Are.

 

This post addresses something I really struggled with for a while. I wanted to know if I was really doing the things I should have been doing; in reality, I was right where God had me.

 

Christianity: Hypocrisy vs. Authenticity

 

Why are some Christians such hypocrites? Well, that’s what I wanted to know. I dug deeper, and this is what I found regarding the differences between authentic Christians and hypocritical ones.

 

Some of these posts are newer, and some are older.

 

But I suppose that they all have an underlying message. Want to know what that is? First of all, they’re all based in God’s grace. His amazing, 100% free grace for every one of us. From grace springs our identity. That we’re new creations in Christ, and nothing, I repeat nothing can take that away from us. (See this post for more on that.) We cannot do anything to earn His love; it is a free gift for all who would receive it.

 

See, Christianity isn’t about how much we do for God, but how much He has done for us. So through my blog, even with being sick, I hope this message comes across.

 

Thank you all for reading; you guys are such an encouragement to me.

 

*aj

How Simple is The Gospel?

How Simple is The Gospel?.jpg

 

The older I get, the more I realize how complicated the world is. In areas of worldviews, politics, education, and religion, there is such a diverse spectrum.

 

A few nights ago, while watching the news, I was informed of a religion that holds the view that spaghetti created the universe and therefore spaghetti is the center. A lady’s driver’s license picture was taken with a strainer on her head, because apparently, if she was prohibited from doing so, it would be considered discrimination. All due respect to these people, but that’s slightly crazy.

 

Anyway, that’s not really my point here. My point is that the world is complicated. Things are diverse. And we tend to listen to the craziness at times.

 

What I’m trying to do here is to direct our attention to all the different sects of Christianity, and those that complicate the Gospel.

 

A lot of people claim that all “true Christians” look alike – we all can perform miracles, be excellent leaders, be really good people, and so on. Therefore, it is concluded that if you can’t or don’t do any of these things, you’re not really a Christian.

 

While I do believe that some can do these things and show themselves to be good people, salvation can’t come from these things. Rather, these things are examples of what can pour out of a Christian’s life.

 

This is where simplicity comes in.

 

The Gospel is beautiful because it isn’t dependent on us. Because we are sinful, we do not deserve heaven or any kind of forgiveness. Nevertheless, salvation is a free gift to all who would accept it.

 

I heard a story a few weeks ago that really made me think. Oftentimes, skeptics ask the question, “If God truly is good, why does He allow bad things to happen to good people?” But the speaker came back with the question, “If we truly are sinful, why does God allow good things to happen to [us] bad people?”

 

Implied in this story is what we all know deep inside – we aren’t perfect. As much as we can strive to be good people, we can never measure up to God’s standard of perfection. (Romans 3:23.) God knows this, and that is why He made the Gospel so simple.

 

John 3:16

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

 

Eternal life is life to the full now and life for eternity in heaven. But how do we get it? Believing in Jesus.

 

John 14:6

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

 

By believing, we accept that our goodness can never measure up to God’s standard, but that Jesus’ can and did. That He is the only way to Heaven, the only atonement for our sins, and by accepting Him and Him alone will we find eternal life.

 

Romans 10:9-10

“Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

 

Salvation is so easy. We believe and we confess to that belief. Even though we do not deserve it whatsoever, it is freely given to us.

 

Acts 4:12

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

 

I know that people claim that Christianity is intolerant because we say that Jesus is the ONLY way to God. I’m not intolerant of others at all. In fact, I respect all people because they were all made and are loved by God. But I can not go against what I believe to say that there is more than one way to be saved, for that would be contradicting what I believe. And if you’re tolerant of what I believe, why are you intolerant to my so-called intolerance? Wouldn’t that be discriminating against me?

 

I know, it sounds ridiculous if I argue it that way. Simply put, though, there is no other way to Heaven but by Jesus. If you want to argue…don’t argue with me, but the One who wants to save your soul.

 

Or maybe…just accept it.

 

I’m not trying to step on toes here. I know that Christianity can seem complicated, just like so much of the world is. What I’m here to say is that it’s not that complicated. God loves everyone and wants to save every one of us; if He didn’t, why would Jesus have come?

 

Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved (Acts 16:31, paraphrased).

 

*aj