– 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 of no new blog posts…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 (who I met on the Thailand/Philippines trip) sent me the most wonderful message of congratulations and encouragement.  I was unintentionally subscribing to a negative and mediocre pattern of thought about my future, and this interruption from Lisa helped jolt me out it.

My purpose for sharing the following words is that perhaps like me, you are facing uncertainty and might need reminding that the best really is yet to come! So friends, here are some words that apply to not only my life, but your life as well:

“What’s next? What 2016 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.

 

Here is to the most vibrant, beautiful, exciting, and incredible year we have yet to live.

 

-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]

 

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Twenty One Things

This past year has been hands down THE best year I have ever lived. When I stop and think about all that God has allowed me to do, learn, and experience–I feel at a loss for words. I do not say any of this to boast—I am just convinced that the incredible adventure my eyes have been opened to is accessible for every person on this planet—it’s merely a matter of perspective (not circumstance) that determines whether you live in a full and satisfying way.

I wanted to write a post about this last year for the sake of pausing and reflecting on all that I learned. (Also, this is my twenty-second blog post, and it just so happened to be my twenty-second birthday—so I am convinced this post was destined to happen).

It’s kind of a long one, so if you make it to the bottom of this post—kudos, and I appreciate you.

Without further a due, here is a list of twenty-one things I learned during my twenty-first year on this planet:

  1. Gratitude is the secret to life. Recognizing the reality of God in your life and thanking him for it has a profound impact on your thoughts, words, actions, and every other facet of life. Bad days turn around pretty quickly when you focus on the abundance of good things you have as opposed meditating on your lack.
  1. For the sake of your wallet keep some coffee on hand at home. I spend a good amount of money on coffee, and I don’t typically feel bad about it (within reason of course). However, there was an occurrence this past year where I put off buying a new bag of coffee to keep at home for about a week and a half. As a result, I bought coffee by the cup every day for about ten days straight. I calculated it and realized that I had spent about three times what I normally would on a week of coffee because I neglected making a quick trip to the store. It was a painful but necessary lesson: invest wisely and buy coffee to keep on hand at home.
  1. You don’t need any kind of title; you just need to be willing and able. This one is thanks to my BFF, Anjel. The other week, I was telling her how I felt things in my life shifting and didn’t know where exactly I stood. She told me I don’t have to be able to pin point exactly where I am, or hold any specific title–all that I need to know is if I am “able” to do the task at hand, and from there choose to be “willing”.
  1. Ask more questions, make fewer statements. I am limited in my scope of knowledge, ability to give advice, and experience. Some of my favorite conversations that I have had throughout this year were centered on finding out more about the people around me. There is something beautifully freeing about taking the spot light off of you and placing it on someone else. From doing this you suddenly get to stow away experiences that are not yours, thoughts you didn’t create, and borrow the liveliness and uniqueness of others. A prime example of this is that I would have never decided to train for my marathon if I hadn’t taken a moment to ask my cousin about her experience with running herself.
  1. I LOVE RUNNING. I have never been able to stick to a workout regimen as well as I did when I trained for my marathon. I would actually get excited throughout the week for my long runs on Saturday morning. Similarly, my roommate Sam loves playing volleyball to workout, while my friend Ally loves taking dance classes. Working out is only a dread when you are doing something you don’t innately love. Find what makes you excited to move and fitness will come naturally.
  1. Challenging things suck to go through, but the result is beautiful. When I got the phone call about my brother (if you don’t know what happened, this post will fill you in) I was terrified of the bad that could come from it, but at the same time I held on to the faint whisper of hope that something great could come from it. As my family and I went through this challenging situation, prayed insistently, and learned to lean on God–we witnessed a miracle happen. It has now been three months since the accident and my brother is out of the hospital, relearning how to walk, and a completely different person. It is incredible how the very thing I thought was going to destroy my hope only ended up solidifying it. One of the scariest things I have ever encountered has turned into a remarkable act of redemption for not only my brother, but my whole family as well.
  1. All you need is enough self-control to bite your tongue, step away, and say a quick prayer. There have been so many small situations this past year that I could have easily gotten offended by and blown out of proportion–some of which I did. However, the times that I chose to stop before reacting, the situation would fizzle out and completely dissolve. Refrain from sour words, you’ll never regret it.
  1. It is better to be dancing with a crazy old man at a wedding, than to be sitting up against a wall bored and observing. This one is self-explanatory: don’t overthink it and care about what you look like–when at a wedding, be fun and dance with your friend’s grandpa.
  1. Have open ears, and you’ll be considered a saint to someone. I often have what I call “therapy” sessions with my best friends. This basically means: I rant and they listen. Through their example, I have realized that sometimes the best thing in the world is a pair of open ears. I have started to apply this concept when people come to me to talk about important things. My ears alone are often better than any advice I have to offer.
  1. “See…it always works out.” I am a hostess at a fine dining restaurant. I help map out the floor, plan the evening, and make sure everything flows and functions well. When I first took on the role of a lead hostess, I hated it and cried every night after work (you think I am exaggerating–I’m not. I cried, like a baby). One night was exceptionally chaotic and my manager had to help me recover the wait. Once we started getting the wait time down and everything back under control she turned to me and said, “See…it always works out.” Now, I know that when it is eight-o’clock on a Saturday night and I am running a thirty minute wait past people’s reservation times–I can rest assured that an hour from now everyone will be seated, all will be calm, and I will be able to breathe again. I’ve taken that bit of advice and applied it to every aspect of life that I can. When things are chaotic and out of control, I can rest assured that it is only momentary and it always works out.
  1. Don’t overcommit; know when to say “no”. I like to be busy and do as much as I possibly can with my time, but there comes a point when my “help” is of no value because I don’t have the energy to invest. Whoever gave me the opportunity  tends to appreciate the transparency when I am honest about my inability to contribute to something being asked of me. It’s better to give an honest-no rather than a half-hearted-yes.
  1. Whenever you stare at a problem, it only becomes more vivid and confusing. True solutions are seen in the character and actions of Jesus. Challenging situations are impossible to navigate when solutions are sought out within a problem. It may sound cliché, but how we revert to dealing with our impossibilities and trials is comparable to the scenario with Jesus and Peter walking on water. Peter can do the impossible so long as his eyes are on Jesus, but the moment he looks at the impossibilities around him is the moment he becomes overwhelmed and consumed by them. This same principle is true for every other human on this planet, whether we know it or not. We’ll never learn how to walk on water by staring at it.
  1. With the right music playing, and the right atmosphere—work doesn’t feel like work.  I loathe doing homework in the library—it’s so quiet, the lighting is sterile, and the environment feels tense. This past year I realized that even statistics homework is enjoyable when I do it an atmosphere that I enjoy. I’ve started making a blanket at the park my place to study and a small table at a coffee shop my office—add a good cup of coffee and some Coldplay music for background noise, and homework days suddenly transform into a little bit of paradise.
  1. Planners are a God-send. Yes, as in a calendar where you write out the things that you need to do and take note of important dates and what not. I don’t know why I waited so long to start using this brilliant-stress-reducing-invention.
  1. My stance on drinking alcohol. I spent about four months completely refraining from having any alcohol because I was unclear on what my convictions towards it were. As I spent that time asking God what He thought about it, I found a very clear and bold line was drawn regarding what I felt was acceptable and unacceptable for me. (I won’t write it all out here because it could easily be a post of it’s own).
  1. I will never get rid of my combat boots…or my black t-shirt. I guess this is more of a statement and less of a lesson. I love my worn out combat boots and faded black t-shirt. I am convinced that those boots look good with everything–even floor length dresses. And that old black t-shirt, I wear it at least twice a week.
  1. Be willing to want for yourself what God wants for you. I did not get a lot of what I asked God for a year ago, but I am actually really happy about that. What he ended up giving me exceeded all of my requests. And I know He might not ever give me what I am asking for right now, but if that is to be the case–I know it’s because there is something better in store. He only ever says no so that He can give you a more incredible yes.
  1. Take candid pictures.  I don’t really enjoy standing still and posing for pictures (you know, the kind where you put your hand on your hip, suck in your gut, and smile without moving or blinking) mostly because I feel awkward doing it. On the contrary, I love capturing genuine moments on camera. Some of my favorite pictures this last year have been captured during organic moments that were filled with laughter, seriousness, weird faces, and beautiful interactions. I would choose having these authentic snaps of time over perfect and posed pictures any day.
  1. Don’t wait until you run out of toothpaste to buy a new tube. I have no grand explanation for this one–it’s just kind of annoying to run out of toothpaste.
  1. Don’t wait until you have it all together to run towards your dreams. Just like I didn’t have all of the money when I first decided to go to Thailand, and I didn’t have the endurance to run a full marathon when I first started training for it–you’ll never have all that you need at the start of something. If you wait for the perfect circumstance, your entire life will be spent on pause.
  1. People make life beautiful. Beyond the amazing experiences I had, places I went, and things I did–I think what made this past year so mind-blowingly-wonderful, was the incredible people who walked with me through it all.

(P.S.- Thanks to my people for making my birthday so special. You guys make life so sweet).

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-AA

“May the Master take you by the hand and lead you along the path of God’s love and Christ’s endurance.” [2 Thessalonians 3:5]

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]

Thailand & Philippines Recap

It has been about a month now since I have been back from my trip to Southeast Asia. I’m slightly frustrated that it has taken me so long to post this, but better late than never…eh?

I’ve taken a lot of time to process everything from those two weeks, and it is challenging to fathom that this trip really happened. I had the most wonderful time and got to stand back and marvel as God worked in ways that exhaust my vocabulary. I was impacted on a very broad scale from this trip. I say “broad” because I fail every time I try to pinpoint and define how my heart was transformed.

With all of that said, I wish I did, but I do not have some grand story to tell you from this trip…but I do have a list of everything that comes to mind when I think back on it. So… shooting from the hip, here is a list of the silly/deep/beautiful/exuberant/somewhat-unnecessary details of my trip:

  • The Jeepney– Terrifying and awesome (but that is mostly because the way that people drive in The Philippines is horrifying). I wanted to cry and laugh every time we got on a jeepney (mostly out of anxiety and fear, but I tried to fool the people on my team into thinking it was a surge of joy that caused these physiological effects…they didn’t buy it). **Also, if you don’t know what a jeepney is, it is one of the main forms of public transportation in The Philippines. If you want to see what it looks like, scroll all the way down…I have a picture of one on here…yaaaaay!**
  • Sweat–The Philippines made me super sweaty. It is hot and humid. But I oddly enjoyed it…maybe because sweating is usually a sign of working out, and consistently having a coat of sweat on my body made me feel like I was burning calories? Makes sense to me…
  • The People–Absolutely wonderful. They always smile at you, make you feel beautiful, feed you, and they like to braid your hair into styles that as a white girl, you could never pull off except for while you are in another country.
  • Gretchen–Our Filipina sister who came and joined us for outreach in Angeles City. She is one of the kindest, yet boldest souls I have ever encountered in my life. She knows how to stand her ground and hold her own. But she also smiles at every person in the world like they are her best friend. She is full of love, wisdom, and Jesus. I have never met anyone who talks like her…she makes you want to listen. I don’t know if it is simply the tone in her voice, her accent, or this special authority she speaks with…whatever it is, it’s captivating. She knows who she is—like really, really, really knows. She is fearless. And she will become your favorite person within three minutes of conversation.
  • McDonalds–I never eat it back home, but I did in The Philippines…and I actually enjoyed it. I also drank Coke…a lot of it.
  • Angeles City (the men)-Angeles city is where we did outreach. I had to do a lot of mental preparation prior to hitting the streets, but nothing can really prepare you for what you encounter while walking through a red light district. The majority of men I saw there looked like people I know. I looked at these men and saw people who looked like my friends, my brothers, my dad, my grandpa. I saw “down-and-outs”, but I also saw “up-and-outs”. I saw normal-looking people caught up in this. Prior to this trip, I supposed that seeing men in these kind of places would anger me, but on the contrary it caused me to understand compassion on a new level. The men that are there need hope and love just as much as any other human on this planet does.
  • Angeles City (the women)–The first night and the first bar I went into was overwhelming. As soon as my team and I walked into the bar, girls flocked to us–after all, it is quite odd to find white-women walking into a bar in the red light district in Angeles City. Our team was super obvious and did not blend in at all, but we used it to our advantage. The team I went out with was composed of four American’s,  one Filippina from the wipe every tear staff, and a girl in Wipe Every Tear’s care. We walked into the first bar and sat down at a booth with four girls from the bar. We got to talking to them and asked them about their lives, their families, their dreams, etc. We then offered to buy them drinks (most of the girls ended up ordering chocolate milk–which I just think is precious because it shows such innocence). Throughout the conversation, we eventually hit a point where the communication barrier prevailed, and at that point one of the Filippina’s that joined us for outreach joined in to help translate/tell them in depth about Wipe Every Tear. It was the most amazing thing in the world to watch the look on these girl’s faces change throughout the conversation. The look of hope overtaking a person’s countenance is priceless and stunning! (ALSO, 4 girls moved into the safe houses as a result of our team’s outreach in Angeles City!!)
  • Khao Soi–Best food I’ve ever tasted in my life. I got it at this place called “Dash” in Chiang Mai, Thailand. If you ever go–do yourself a favor and try it. I ate it three times…and I would totally do it again. Actually, I would eat it every day if I could.
  • Food poisoning?- NOPE! Also, I didn’t get any kind of sickness while on this trip. All of that goes to say that prayer works! I did not want to get sick while there, and for months prior I prayed for good health on this trip. Ask and you shall receive my friends.
  • Thai Coffee–SO good. Mochas on mochas on mochas.
  • Long plane rides–yeah, they kind of suck. But once you pass the 8 hour mark, you can really handle anything. I think I watched three movies on the flight from Seattle to Hong Kong. Meanwhile, I looked over at my friend Ebie and realize that during that time she had read about 200 pages of a novel–I seriously questioned my intellectual capacity and priorities at that moment.
  • Zip lining–(Over the Thai rainforest) Amazing! It was about a four hour long course of zip lines, rappelling, and beat up old bridges that we had to walk across. I walked through, and soared over the most stunning scenery I have ever laid eyes on. It was the closest feeling I’ve ever had to flying, and it was incredible. It was easily one of the coolest–if not, the coolest thing I have ever done.
  • The Monsoon–Our team had to run about a quarter mile in the POURING rain. There was lightening striking all around us–it was actually a little bit scary, but mostly awesome. We were all soaked from head to toe by the time we got back to the house we were staying at. We were all laughing hysterically. It is hard to explain it in words, but it was one of those moments that just make you appreciate how wonderful it is to be alive.
  • Fear- I felt a lot of it on this trip. The whole time we were over there it felt like situation after situation was thrown in my face to try and arouse this emotion. (There is nothing like being confronted by a papasan [a pimp] in the red light district to make you feel a little uneasy).  At the time, I despised that I kept facing these feelings of fear and wanted nothing more than to be free of this limitation. However, in hindsight I am so grateful that it happened. Feeling fear on such a real level like I did over there made me lean on God and trust in him more than I ever have before. And as I learned to really rely on and trust in him to protect me, he stripped the fear from me and freed me of it.
  • Yellow–I heard my favorite song randomly at least 10 times on this trip. We would be walking in to a coffee shop, leaving a restaurant, passing by a bar, walking through a mall, checking into a hotel–and this song would be playing. I would smile every time I heard it because I knew it was the big man giving me peace and  reminding me that he was with me in this whole thing.
  • The team–wonderful would have to be an understatement. We all got along so well, worked together impeccably well, laughed so much, and were instant friends. I am so grateful for all of the long conversations, beautiful moments, growth, tears, and laughs that I got to have with this crew. This group was the epitome of a dream team.
  • “I just feel so alive right now.”–The phrase I kept finding myself saying throughout this trip.

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Life with Jesus is the most extravagant adventure…I don’t know what I was doing with my existence before him.

-AA

“God can do anything, you know–far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.” Ephesians 3:20 [MSG]

(Also, thank you X 1,000,000,000  to everyone who prayerfully or financially supported me in this dream. I could not have pursued this endeavor without your generous and selfless hearts!)

For more information on Wipe Every Tear, visit their website: http://www.wipeeverytear.org

The Upper Hand

I don’t really know where to start with this post…

I thought about listing all of the difficult things going on in my life right now, and then direct you to an ending claus regarding how faithful God is in spite of it all. But that is an excellent formula to make myself feel overwhelmed. So I will approach this counterintuitively, and tell you of the goodness of God right off the bat: GOD ALWAYS HAS THE UPPER HAND.

Allow me to explain:

Just so you have a glimpse into my world right now: my brother is currently in the ICU, my grandma had a heart attack this weekend and had to get an angioplasty done, and I am leaving to go to Asia tomorrow on a missions trip. When I first received the news of my brother Saturday morning, I didn’t know how to react. I was with people all day, constantly on the go, had people depending on me, and didn’t really have a moment to gather my emotions and process all that was happening.

And so, I began to question everything out of fear, “Should I go on this trip? What if I get horrible news while I am gone? Is he going to be able to recover? My family needs me right now, and I’m leaving them…”

As I battled with these thoughts all day Saturday, I nearly broke down and lost my sanity.  As I was descending rapidly towards my breaking point, I decided that I needed to step aside for a moment and give God room to speak. He began to remind me of his promises over my brother, and that many of them have yet to be fulfilled. God peacefully reassured me that He sees long term, and I only see the moment. He spoke to me that though all I can see right now are the injuries that my brother is facing, God can see the point in time when complete healing and restoration occurs.

Just because I don’t yet see it, doesn’t mean that it is not a reality–I mean, faith is indeed the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not yet seen! (Right?!).

As I yielded to this thought, I was able to surrender my attempts at “pulling myself up by my bootstraps”, and God began to lift me up.

Fast forward about twenty four hours: Sunday night, as I was about to go into a church service, I received a disheartening phone call. My dad began to inform me that my grandma was in the hospital, recovering from heart surgery and that she had suffered a heart attack. Too shocked to cry, I thanked my dad for letting me know, hung up the phone, dry swallowed my discouragement, and stood up. As I reflected on the awful news that I had received throughout weekend, I was flooded with mixed emotions and thoughts that were too scattered to quantify or understand. I exclaimed out of anger to God, “I feel like you are teasing me! Every time things look like they are getting better, they seem to just fall apart again!”.

Well, when one exclaims such an audacious claim to God, they can expect a humbling response. Instantly the Lord reminded me, “Don’t you dare think I am teasing you with anything! People and situations are imperfect, but I pursue them anyways, heal anyways, and display my power anyways.”

And at that, my thoughts began to align and correct themselves. Yes, my brother took a four story fall…BUT, he didn’t break his neck, back, or die! Yes, my grandma is in the hospital because of heart issues…BUT, the surgery went well, she is in good spirits, is expected to return to life as usual, and will be released from the hospital in a few days! Yes, I am leaving to go on a missions trip in the middle of a crazy mess…BUT, God has clearly guided and directed this entire journey, therefore I can go into it with confidence!

Prior to going through an experience like this, I was intimidated by the thought of facing a difficult situation. While I can be quoted encouraging others that difficulties are intended for good and to build you up, I still obviously never wanted to go through anything trying or traumatic. But the more I yield to God’s perspective of this situation, the more I realize that it is not time to be discouraged or fearful, but it is time for faith to arise and stand firm through this trial!

In the midst of all of this, I am living in and experiencing the peace of God which transcends understanding. God is showing me that yes, in this world I will have troubles–but that no trouble is too big for him, because he has overcome the world!

While the facts of this situation are discouraging, God has already won victory in it, restored everything that is broken, and is using this to bring about a miracle in my family that will testify of his goodness! I am learning that you really can be encouraged by every bad hand the enemy deals you, because it simply is an opportunity for God to display and prove who really has the upper hand! God specializes in, and LOVES to take the dirt that life dishes out, and produce gold. We serve a God who turns water into wine, raises the dead, brings sight to the blind, and brings joy from the most unlikely situations–friends, there is NOTHING too difficult or intimidating for God. He ALWAYS has the upper hand.

What the enemy tried to do was dim my light, but what he ended up doing was light my fire.

-AA

“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.” James 1:2-4 [MSG]

“So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst be sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us–who was raised to life for us!–is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in scripture.” Romans 8:31-35 [MSG]

“Greater is He who is in me, than he who is in the world.” 1 John 4:4 [NKJV]

***Please be praying for my grandma, Barbara, and my brother, Travis. Please pray for full and complete healing, and that in the process God eases their pain.***

Life lessons from Savvy

(WARNING: This will be a sappy post)

This past week one of my best friends (Savannah) got married to the love of her life (Coleman). The wedding itself was incredible, but the build up to the day was just as amazing. All week I was baffled by the love I was surrounded by. (Seriously, this couple is SO in love. It is inspiring.  The two of them make me believe that soulmates are a real thing). Not only that, but the love I felt from the friendships that surround them and from their families was mesmerizing.

And while I could rant for hours on end about the wedding, their families, their relationship, and how inspiring it all is–I thought I would dedicate this post to ranting about my best friend, Savvy.

She has no clue–but the person that she is and the way that she lives has left an unremovable mark on my life. Something that I love about friendship is that there is so much you can learn from each and every person God places in your life. In Savvy’s case–she has taught me about what it looks like to genuinely value and treasure EVERYTHING.

As I was driving home from the wedding, I pondered how blessed Savannah is and how everything she touches practically turns to gold. Now I lived with Savvy for two years–so I have an accurate glimpse into how she manages her life. And something that I have noticed is that she treats everything and everyone with respect and value. EVERYTHING, from the big details to the minute details.  From how she irons her clothes, to how she spoils her friends. And just to give you a picture of what I am talking about, here are a few of the best examples I could compile:

  • I have never seen a more organized suitcase than hers in my life–ever!
  • When she gives someone a present, she spends just as much time wrapping it, as she does in selecting the gift itself.
  • She takes care of her clothes so well that they could literally last for several centuries.
  • When we lived together, the dishes were never cleaner than they were after she washed them.
  • In every job she has ever held, she excels because she goes above and beyond with even the smallest of tasks.
  • With school, she refused to turn in a paper unless she had edited it at least ten times.
  • In her finances–she always has the money to have fun, buy beautiful clothes, eat healthy, and spoil others–because she is wise and knows how to prioritize her money,
  • With Coleman, I have rarely seen two people love one another the way they do–and I believe a huge part of it is because they both deeply value one another and treat their relationship as a gift.

If you missed the common thread that I am trying to hone in on–it is that her life displays faithfulness and (excuse the super spiritual language) what it looks like to be a good steward of all that God has given to you.

Perhaps blessings aren’t accidental, but intentional. I am of the persuasion that Savannah’s life is so blessed because God knows that she will treat the gifts he gives her like they are pure gold. I say all of this to encourage you (and myself) to genuinely value what God places in your hand. My thought is that as we do this, blessings will coincidentally fall into our lives like rain.

-AA

“Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities!” [Luke 12: 48 MSG]

P.S. – Aren’t they the cutest!?

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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. But 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 subtle diaglouge 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 hyperventilating 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!” With reluctancy, 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 gastly 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. (Oh, and I didn’t end up getting a poison ivy rash or anything either!)

If you didn’t catch on to the moral of the story that this day taught me, I will go ahead and explain all that I learned from this sequence of events:

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 when you live in a mentality that agrees with the fallacy that your fear is stronger than you are. But 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 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]

Connie

I’ve unintentionally taken a hiatus from blogging the past two months. Life got crazy and busy, but with that came plenty of stories that I intend to share with all of you. For starters, I’ll have you meet connie.


This past week, I went with my internship to the LA dream center. If you are unfamiliar with the dream center, it is this incredible ministry in Los Angeles that is centered around reaching out to the community and meeting the needs of the people. (For more info about them, click here.)

On Wednesday morning, my team and I hit the streets to pick up trash. Right as we were about to head out, a lady came running over to our group and said, “I’m here to volunteer. Is this the group that is going to pick up trash?” As soon as she knew she was in the right place, we all left. About five minutes into our expedition, I moved away from conversations with my fellow interns and began walking next to her. I was curious, and wanted to hear whatever it was she had to say.

(Just so you know a tad more about Connie, she lives in west L.A., and was born in the Philippines, but is Chinese. She took the week off from work so she could volunteer at the dream center, meanwhile her husband was in Nicaragua on a missions trip. As you can see from the picture, she also has one of the most beautiful smiles you’ve ever seen. She prays like she is going to war, and every word from her mouth is threaded with encouragement and love. She is amazing).

We skimmed past introductions then quickly dived into one of the best conversations I’ve ever had. The quality of it was so mesmerizing that I hardly remember the scenery that surrounded us. I could easily write a novel about all that we talked about, but I thought for this post I would just focus in on one page.

She began to talk to me about her family, which led into this incredible story:

“One of my brothers never believed in God. All of my other siblings over the years had come to know The Lord, but this brother in particular never wanted anything to do with Him. He would always make fun of me for believing in God and would mock me, saying things sarcastically like, ‘oh praise the Lord!’. But one day, I got a phone call from him and he said to me, “Connie! I had the most incredible dream! I was stuck in a house: It had no doors, no windows, no way out. I was trying so hard to find a way to get out and couldn’t. I was beating on the walls and pounding on the floor, trying to find some kind of opening, but the house wouldn’t budge. I didn’t know what else to do, so I shouted with everything in me, ‘JESUS!’ And the walls exploded open, tumbled down, and I was able to get out.” She continued, “He got saved from that dream.”

I sat there with my jaw dropped, the hair on my arms standing up, and wonder in my spirit. What an accurate picture of who Jesus is. There is nothing we bring to the table. Our best attempt at getting out of the “houses” that trap us in are futile, useless, hopeless, and quite frankly–pathetic. Our real escape route is always found in calling on the only name that has the ability to open up closed-in houses, break chains, create roads where there is no route in sight, and set free. It’s so simple, but we (at least I do this) tend to overcomplicate it and think that there is something we can add to the equation. But there is nothing. The equation has always been, and always will be: Jesus. All you need is the breath in your lungs, and the voice in your mouth to call out his name–everything else is on him.

I hope Connie’s story brings you freedom…I know it did for me.

-AA

“Remember, our message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.” 2 Corinthians 4: 5-6 [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. It’s kind of a long read–but if you have five minutes, I think you might be encouraged by it.]


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]