– Lisa

 

First off, let me start this blog post by stating how wonderful it feels to be writing again. It has been a lonesome three months without writing…and I blame that on my final semester of college. So, for the sake of not leaving a giant life event gap on my blog, I shall give a quick recap of the past three months:

School kicked my butt

I graduated college with a Bachelors of Science degree in Psychology

…That’s about it.

(There are fun little life details threaded between those two statements, but most of the past few months were consumed by school, studying, essays, reading text books, crying because I was over it, morning coffee runs, afternoon coffee runs, late night coffee runs, some more crying, and every once in a while, the feeling of vindication that accompanied getting an ‘A’ on an assignment).

Moving on…

I have graduated, yay! (I’m reveling in this, if you can’t tell). Now I have a lot more free mental room to focus on the things I want to focus on, which is exciting! As soon as I walked across the stage and received my degree, I felt a surge of joy, hope, and adrenaline run through me. When the emotion wore off and the celebrations subsided, I began creating lists upon lists of all that I need to do in order to be qualified as a young adult who was “doing something with her life”. The instant that my excitement wore off and reality set in, I felt this weight of needing to measure up come over me.

The free mental space that I once saw as a blessing became a daunting reminder that a huge chapter of my life had come to a close and “real life” was beginning. Each moment became heavier as this thought settled in. It felt as if all of the wonder and awe that I felt towards life after graduating was diminishing at a rapid rate. As I was getting lost on this downward spiral, I received a sweet reminder at the best time possible. My friend Lisa sent me the most wonderful message of congratulations and encouragement.  I was unintentionally subscribing to a negative pattern of thought about my future, and this interruption from Lisa helped jolt me out it.

“What’s next? What this year holds for you is unlimited. You are at the age that you are young enough to have your whole life ahead of you but old enough to be taken seriously. Responsible enough to take on the world but not yet tied down with responsibilities. Crazy enough to try change the world yet wise enough to actually make it work.  2016 could totally be your year and with God for you who can stand against you. I know this sounds a bit rich, but there is something in my spirit that needs to tell you to walk into 2016 with courage, fierceness and a huge expectation for what you could achieve”.  –Lisa Calis

I love it. “With God for you, who can be against you?” God has given us permission. Rather, He is begging us to dream beyond borders.

 

-AA

 

“Strength! Courage! Don’t be timid; don’t get discouraged. God, your God, is with you every step you take.” Joshua 1:9 [MSG]

 

The Dream

The other day I overheard one of my friends ask someone, “What is your dream? And what does your dream life look like?”

As this conversation ensued, I drifted off into a thought world of my own. I started trying to think up all of these scenarios that would be ‘ideal’ to live in. I thought about how I am graduating college in a few short months. I began to draw up scenarios of what life should look like by then. And at these thoughts I found myself spinning in circles where my thoughts were filled with extreme lack and dissatisfaction regarding the present. I quickly wanted to jump ahead past the next three months so that I could finally “arrive”–whatever the heck that means.

Interrupting these bitter thoughts that my mind was rapidly producing–for a moment, I began to think about life right now: the quaint house I live in, my friendships, my family, my relationship with God, the landscape of the city I live in, the ministry I am apart of, the fact that my days are filled with random work of all sorts, the joy that I get from decompressing momentarily over coffee with a friend, the eager expectation I hold that each present moment could be better than the last.

As this thought filled my mind, I was covered head to toe with chills as I realized–I am living my dream life.”

I love that my days are full of random tasks from homework, to laundry, to paying bills, to hostessing, to writing a blog post, to sending an email, to squeezing in a quick run before I start up my day.

I love that I have to be savvy with my finances and actually stick to a budget.

I love that I live in a small house with my best friends–and oddly, I love our daily war with spiders.

I love Sunday lunch after church with the greatest people in the world.

I love that I wake up with not enough sleep, but paradoxically go to bed energized.

I love the quick phone calls with family that are spread out sporadically through my day.

I love coming home after a long night at work to find my friends sitting around a bonfire in the backyard.

I love the challenges of this season that force me to lean on God when all I want is for everything just to be easy.

I write all of this out to remind myself (and perhaps someone reading this) to be present and enjoy this very moment. Possessing contentment is a continual fight. In moments where it seems like whatever is on the horizon is better than what you have now, it is challenging not to run off and chase after some idealistic thought of what life could be in the future.  The fact of the matter is that you could have everything you “want” and more, but still find yourself feeling empty. A dream life is not found within perfect circumstances, but it is hidden within the attitude which your heart possesses.

Gratitude is the force that removes the divide between where you are and where you want to be. It is when peace is disturbed by thoughts of want and lack, that presently-tangible dreams and beauty become distant and untouchable. So long as your heart is filled with sweet contentment, you will find yourself living “the dream”.

-AA

“A devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God. Since we entered the world penniless and will leave it penniless, if we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that’s enough.” 1 Timothy 6:6-8 [MSG]

Poison Ivy

A few weeks back, my friend Jenny and I went on a hike to this place called “Jump Creek.” I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, I just knew that I had the morning off and I wanted to go adventuring. So we did. We drove about an hour and a half out of town in her little Volkswagen bug and arrived at our destination. We hiked short trek to arrive at this gorgeous waterfall. To our dismay, it was extremely crowded and we couldn’t enjoy the serenity that this gorgeous location had to offer.

We ventured down a different trail and arrived at the base of a large wall of rocks that led to the top of the waterfall. It had about a 6 foot wide platform in the middle of it where you could stand before you proceeded the rest of the way up this wall. We successfully climbed up halfway. However, when we went to conquer the second part of this wall, it was not as easy as the first portion was. It was steep, narrow, and had very few good hand holds to pull ourselves up with. After trying several times and becoming frustrated with each failed attempt to get up this wall, we concluded that we would turn around and find a different way to get to the top of this waterfall.

We were about to turn around when a family of five individuals came up behind us and thwarted our plan. We entered into a short dialogue with the father of this family, and it changed the trajectory of the rest of this day.

“You going up or down?”

“Down.” We replied.

“May I ask you a question…”

“Yes.”

“Why? Don’t you want to see what is at the top? You’ve already made it so far, why turn around now?”

My friend Jenny and I looked at one another, shrugged our shoulders with hesitation, and agreed with his statement and decided to climb on. With new courage in our spirits, we began to move forward and climb –  knowing that if we were to lose our grip, we had an entire family behind us that could spot and catch us if we fell. We conquered this great wall, made it to the top and sat on a rock where the water steeply dropped off. We looked down at the bottom of the waterfall and smiled as all of the people down there looked up at us wondering how we did it.

After spending some time at the top of the waterfall, we decided to keep moving forward in our trek. As we moved back towards the trail, we ran into this family again. They invited us along for their hike, and we decided to join.

“Do you know what poison ivy looks like?” The father asked us.

My eyes grew wide, my heart raced, and I stuttered, “There’s poison ivy here?”

“Oh yeah! It’s that stuff right there.”

He pointed to a plant and I nearly began sweating as I realized that I had been climbing through it for quite some time now. He could tell by the look on my face that I was freaked out, so he reassured me, “Oh you’ll be fine! Just take a good shower when you get home!” Reluctantly, I nodded and continued hiking.

Hyperaware of poison ivy, I was quite skittish for a good portion of the hike, trying my best to avoid this ghastly plant. Jenny, following behind me, exclaimed, “Amie! Don’t be afraid of it!” Instantly, I came to the realization of how much this fear was hindering my ability to enjoy the day. A few moments later, I tuned in to a lesson the mother of this family was giving to her son, “See, look…you just kick it out of the way and step on it!” She said, as she fiercely stomped this large piece of poison ivy out of her path. I followed in her leading, and from that point on the rest of the day I stomped on every bit of poison ivy that came my way. That thing that once had power over me, quickly became something to put underneath my feet.

We came to a fork in the trail, and Jenny and I decided to exit the path and head back. As we started up our new road, we turned back and said, “Thank you…” as we waited for them to fill in their names. “Jenkins family!” They replied. “Thank you, Jenkins family!” we said. “Remember, it’s all an adventured. Have fun, and don’t forget to look up!” Mr. Jenkins shouted as we parted ways. Jenny and I proceeded through the rest of our hike in amazement as we pondered everything that this day had taught us.

(Side note: I didn’t end up getting a poison ivy rash!)

1. Don’t turn around when you are on your way. Don’t let resistance keep you from your goals and dreams. Keep climbing, you’ve already come so far.

2. When fears come across your path, they only have power over you if you live in a mentality that agrees with the fallacy that your fear is stronger than you are. However, that false mentality is crushed as soon as you come to the realization that you have the ability and authority in Jesus to put fear underneath your feet and quite literally – stomp on it.

3. Remember, its all an adventure, and don’t forget to look up!

-AA

“Yes, because God’s your refuge, the High God your very own home, evil can’t get close to you harm can’t get through the door. He ordered his angels to guard you wherever you go. If you stumble, they’ll catch you; their job is to keep you from falling. You’ll walk unarmed among lions and snakes, and kick young lions and serpents from the path.” Psalm 91: 9-10 [MSG]

Something Pivotal

I recently had to write an essay to apply for a scholarship. The prompt had to do with expanding on the details of a leadership role that has helped shape me. I hope that while you (whoever you are) read this, that it sheds light on this simple truth: your faith is more about the people you impact than it is about you.


I backed up about two feet to the start of the platform, pulled my hair back into a tight ponytail, and lunged back and forth with great anticipation as I waited for the dog horn to blow and my race to start. The siren sounded and I launched into the water and swam like there was a shark chasing me from behind. I was swimming like my life depended on it, yet I felt like I could see everything in slow motion. Every particle of water that flew in the air appeared as though it was floating and calmly settling on the lake—the same way that a snowflake would gently settle on the ground. I got to the end of the race and looked over at my team as they all cheered and lost their minds. “How did I do?” I asked as I ran over to them and tried to catch my breath. “You came in third!” They replied with great joy and excitement. Frustration instantly came over me, as I was certain I had won this heat for my team. It took everything within me to fight off the urge to glare at the two competitors that had just beaten me. I mustered up the willpower to shake off my disappointment, smiled like any good sport would, and celebrated with my teammates.

Sounds really dramatic, right? Well, it was—but it was also a relay race at a high school summer camp this past July, and the two competitors that beat me were fifteen-year-old high school boys. (In my defense they were both members of the varsity swim team at their high schools). All of this is beside the point—this is simply a facetious story to introduce you to perhaps one of the most pivotal weeks of my life.

To provide some context as to how I even ended up at this high school camp, I must first dial back this story a few years: A few months into my college experience I got invited to a church service. Hesitantly, I attended—with the only basis of my compliance being the fact that my best friend, Makenna, was going. This service was different. There was something much more attractive and enticing about it than anything I had been apart of before. Perhaps the most gripping component of this experience was the amazing sense of community that radiated from each conversation I had that night. You could say that this was an evening that changed the trajectory of my life. Up until this moment I had been lacking motivation, focus, and purpose—but as I established and rooted myself within this community, I found all of those things begin to flourish within me. And through a beautifully blurred sequence of events that are too long to list here, I began to get involved with this churches youth ministry.

Fast-forward a few years and there I stand with my team at this high school summer camp. I wasn’t there as an attendee, but a leader. Who would of thought? If three years prior you would have told me that’s how I would be spending the summer leading up to my senior year of college, I would have laughed. But now, I unapologetically admit that I would not change it for the world. Not only has it been the most rewarding experience to be a positive influence in these kid’s lives, but they have also had a profound impact on me.

The last night of this camp is one that changed me. I talked with a few girls that I clicked really well with throughout this camp, and they began to open up to me. With each word they stated, I realized that they were currently going through many of the struggles that I had too experienced in my high school years—feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, fear of what the future might hold, feeling left out in social circles, trying to establish a sense of identity, and challenging family circumstances to name a few. As these conversations took place, I was overwhelmed at how much I related to them. I felt like I was talking to my sixteen-year-old self. My heart broke with compassion, as I just wanted them to know and understand all that the past five years had taught me. It was at that moment that an overwhelming realization came over me that I was in these girls lives to be a voice of encouragement—one that instills confidence when the majority of voices in their lives would promote insecurity.

There is something about knowing that someone looks up to you that motivates you to live at a higher standard than you normally would. Whenever I am faced with a situation where I can tell that my conscience is uncertain as to what I should do, all that I have to do is consider the girls that I am leading. When I am tempted to slack in school, I am reminded that I tell these girls that they should always try their best—and instantly, my conviction is recalibrated. When I am tempted to give in to gossip and engage in conversations I know I have no business being apart of, I simply consider all I’ve ever told these girls about being kind to one another—and instantly, I have the willpower to keep quiet. If I am to be transparent, I know I am supposed to be their leader, but they have quite truthfully led me in more ways than I could ever accurately communicate. The sense of accountability I feel towards these girls has been one so strong that it has impacted the depths of my integrity, and in fact—every facet of my life.

-AA

“My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God.”

[1 John 4:7 MSG]