Friday, October 17, 2014

What good conversation can do for the soul

Trying to explain where I live here in Philadelphia to people seems to be more difficult than expected so most of the time I just tell people I live at St. Augustine's church, because for all intents and purposes, I do. The building my apartment is in is owned by the church which is literally right next door(a huge motivator to go to church every week by the way!) I also live on the second floor because the first floor is home to Women of Hope, which is an assisted living facility for adult women struggling with homelessness and mental illness. 

There are a handful of women I see each day as I leave for work or come home for the day. Often they are talking with each other and/or smoking a cigarette. Many of the women smile and wave to me, and I of course return the wave. They come to church and the meals the church provides on Sundays where we again exchange a smile and a wave. Today was a little different. I was walking to my bus stop for work and saw one of the women who is always quick to share a smile waiting for the same bus. She came up to me, so incredibly excited to share with me that she got a job. After a congratulatory hug, our bus came and we continued to chat on the bus. I learned so much about Ms. Elizabeth in the 25 minute ride we shared together-we have moved passed just a friendly wave. 

Ms. Elizabeth shared with me that after her husband died, she went through a nervous breakdown which led to her homelessness. She shared what park she lived in and that she never begged for money. She shared with me that when she became homeless she bought a Bible, continued to pray and ask others for prayer. She insisted on getting a hand up in this world, not a hand out. Ms. Elizabeth shared how many people she has been blessed to have in her life. She shared that so many people struggling with homelessness and mental illness don't take the difficult steps to get better and rely on the hand outs she tried so hard to avoid. 

In the 25 minutes I spoke with Ms. Elizabeth it became evident that she just wanted someone to share in her happiness. She didn't want pity for her hard life but wanted to share in the joy of answered prayers. She is an incredible reminder that a hard life is no reason to give up on God. Her faith stays constant in any situation and the obstacles make the reward that much sweeter. 

Right before her stop she told me her mother always said everyone just needs someone to talk to. No one lives in this world by themselves. Her mother was so right. It can be so easy to go through life thinking no one understands what you are going through. It can be so easy to isolate ourselves from people who are different from us but SO much can be learned by simply talking. Talking and listening to a relative stranger. Ms. Elizabeth is no longer a stranger, she is a source of inspiration. I cannot wait to see her, smile and wave and ask her how her job is. We should all take after her belief in getting a hand up in life not a hand out.

Thank you, Ms. Elizabeth, for sharing. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Lukewarm Christian Is As Bad As Lukewarm Coffee

Things learned in Philly:

  • "yous" is not nearly as catchy as "y'all"
  • scarf weather comes much earlier here than Arkansas
  •  A good book can take you far
  • It's hard not being close to your best friends
  • If you're nice enough to a friar he may buy you a beer
  • Three year olds don't quite grasp the concept of a structured environment
  • What was once "daily wear" now constitutes as "dress-down" wear
  • The quest for the best cheesesteak may in fact never end
  • A mother's advice whether in person or over the phone is still unbelievably helpful
It's weird, I was talking with my friend and old roommate, Margaret, who is living in Boston for the year and going through something similar to me. We were seen in Arkansas as these big city slickers coming from St. Louis but here we are seen as country-folk. In the last 4 years she and I have gotten really good at being the outsiders. Sometimes it's fun, sometimes it sucks. I am normally one to thrive on difference. I like talking to new people from new places doing new things. I think Margaret would agree. For the past couple of days though I have been getting an itch for familiarity. I'm sure this is normal, but it's also bothersome. 

I was talking to my incredible advice-giving mother today about the new stress of where to go from here. I know, I know, you must be surprised to hear me planning already. (ohhh the sarcasm) Anyway, after expressing the frustration to my mom about the backwardness of the American education system and how expensive life is, she helped me to realize how incredibly blessed I am. Blessed with the time to do my research. Blessed with the time to build my resume. Blessed with the time to also pause the grad school application process and explore a new city. A city that I'm not sure I'll be ready to leave in a year (hence the open tabs on my computer to different MSW programs in Philadelphia). I am blessed beyond words in so many areas of my life, and while I wanted to scream earlier today with the curse of grad school, she helped me turn it around. 

Along with all these blessings, I am also blessed with the time to read good books. I am currently rereading Crazy Love, by Francis Chan. In one of the chapters he discusses what a "lukewarm Christian" is and how easy it is to become one. Let me share a section that really hit close to home. It's kind of long, but bare with me-I will make a connection at the end!

"Lukewarm people do not live by faith: their lives are structured so they never have to. They don't trust God if something unexpected happens-they have their savings account. They don't need God to help them-they have retirement plans in place. They don't genuinely seek out what life God would have them live-they have life figured and mapped out. They don't depend on God on a daily basis-their refrigerators are full and, for the most part, they are in good health. The truth is, their lives wouldn't look much different if they suddenly stopped believing in God." 

Here's my connection: I have seen and experienced the people Chan takes a whole chapter to describe. I don't believe I am currently one of those people by any means-but I do have a fear of becoming one. My mom reminded me today that I can't function without a plan. Sometimes I am content if I know I'm living out God's plan but sometimes I try to take the reins and it doesn't always end in contentment. My mom suggested that maybe my plan for the year is to do what I'm doing: using the time I have been blessed with to explore my options. The option from God's plans will shine through eventually, I can't forget that. 

I need a plan. But I also need God. That is how I know that I am more than lukewarm. 

I have been reminded by countless people that grad school is expensive and social workers don't make a lot of money so I better plan for that. What if God's plan isn't for me to make a bunch of money and live comfortably just yet? Maybe these student loans that everyone is telling me I should be scared of is just another way to depend more on God. After all, anyone going into social work or really any helping profession isn't normally doing it for the money. My career and my life won't be based on monetary success. It will be based on how well I can follow God's plan. 

More to come from Philly later!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Sometimes a girl just needs a water-ice

Things I've learned since moving to Philly-

  • You can fit a surprising amount of stuff into two 50 pound bags at the airport
  • But if you have nice parents they will ship you what you couldn't fit!
  • Philly is nothing like I expected, but everything I needed
  • They say things differently here
  • The Augustinian Catholics like to make jokes about the Jesuits
  • There is no better snack than chocolate covered almonds
  • Living on a budget is going to be hard
  • Journaling is good for the soul
  • Having roommates is different than living in community (Augustinians are big on community if you didn't know)
  • Being a plane ride away from family is much different than being a car ride away
  • People from ALL walks of life take public transit
  • When you ask "where's the best cheesesteak?" no two answers will be the same
  • Rittenhouse square is where it's at
It felt like a movie. I had gotten my two bags from baggage claim and I just stood there for a second. Anxious. This is it. I'm here. And then proceeded trying to (and failing) gracefully roll two huge bags, a backpack, a carry-on, and the purse I had shoved into said carry-on in order to follow TSA requirements, out to the curb to have someone I had only talked to on the phone and in email come and pick me up. Nerves kicked in, what if I was the one with the most stuff? Should I be more excited? Less excited? Who am I going to be living with? Are they anything like me? Where am I living? What am I doing?

Long story short-I love it here. I love the people I work for, my fellow volunteers working at all the different sites, the neighborhood I live in, the girls I live with, I love it all. 

It felt like a movie. A picture perfect day, my boss told me to get off early and go enjoy the weather. I took the not so picture perfect public transit and got off near a quant little coffee shop, took an iced coffee to go and walked to one of the squares here- Rittenhouse to be exact. I got there, picked out my bench and just sat for a little bit. This is it, I thought, I am here. At that moment I was so happy  could have cried. Instead, I said a prayer, thanking God-the guy that made this all possible. I was so supremely happy. Looking back 6 months ago I was having panic attacks, wondering what I would be doing post-college. Never could I have dreamed of this, but man is it incredible. 

Being here has been a little hard of course. It's an adjustment living in a new city with new people and new jobs. I live with 3 other girls, all very fun, who are adjusting just the same. It's hard being away from home when exciting and/or tough things happen and I can't be around familiar people to experience them. It's tough not being in a school setting-what I am so familiar with and not focusing on what's next (I'm already worrying about the future) 

That being said, I had a little bit of a tough day today. I have been thinking of a friend who I wish more than anything I could give a hug to at this moment, I miss being able to talk to my mom and dad in person. I miss being near my sisters who are starting new areas of their life like me. I miss the proximity of my friends from high school and college. Nothing detrimental or agonizing happened today, it was just one of those "ick" days. One where you can't really describe to people around you why you may not be your chipper self because you don't know exactly why yourself. 

So you know what I did? I splurged. I got myself a water-ice (or what the rest of the world calls a snow cone...kind of...its not really one of those either-whatever, just look up "philadelphia+water ice" and you'll see) Oh and its not really a splurge to buy one from a street vendor but when you make $25 a week it can be. 

Okay now your wondering where the God is in this post-let me explain. It seems like God and I have this little agreement. When I start to have one of those "ick" days I try and find something to do to just get out of my head for a little while. Stop worrying for a bit to be reminded of His power (The whole 'cast your cares on Him for He cares' spiel-1 Peter 5:7-great verse to live by if you're an anxious person like me). Anyway, this weird thing Philly people love, water-ice, was what I did to give myself a break. I indulged in a sugary treat-half of which I spilled on the ground, childish I know. It was as if I had changed the channel and I was in another movie, happy music playing in the background, girl walking home in the sunshine, eating her water-ice, chit-chatting with people around, a man walking his two beautiful dogs, another person giving high-fives just because, happy news from home, and a little time to myself on a comfy couch to just enjoy the gift of life God has given me. Life in a new and exciting town. Life in a place that I feel fits. 

So, while I know I am not promised all good days this year while I am in Philly, I think I'm going to keep up my deal with God. He did a fantastic job reminding me of His gift to me today and the least I can do is indulge!

More to come from Philly in a bit!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Christian Psychologist Walks Into a Movie Theatre...

Last night was girls night, and what did we do? What any group of girls would do-spend money to watch a movie (The Fault in Our Stars) that made each and everyone of us cry(I should note that I'm not one for gender stereotypes, but this one stands to be true) Anyway, it got me thinking-why does anyone pay money to watch a movie about loss that knowingly makes them cry? Maybe it's because we can relate or maybe it's to learn how to empathize. Perhaps it is just for a good cry. Whatever the reason, we confront ourselves with pain- but it is one that we can stand up from our seats and walk away from. What about the pain or loss we can't leave at the theatre?

I'm not a stranger to loss. When I was involved with Young Life we all had our own 'testimony'-essentially our life stories that told of our upbringing and the development of our relationship with God. The more I shared with my peers, the more I realized that so much of my relationship with God has been trying to figure out the pain I have experienced from either loss of a loved one or watching someone close to me struggle. Later, finding comfort in His arms when faced with those situations.

As a psychologist (I have a Bachelors degree now, I can call myself that) I have had the phrase "correlation NOT causation" drilled into my brain. We can't say what causes something to happen with 100% certainty so we just look at the two variables and compare. The two that I will be looking at for today's lesson-God and pain. After all 22 years of my life I have noticed the relationship works in both directions. Let me explain:

In the past I have talked about how tragedy has the power to lead people away from their faith or renew their beliefs. The more a person focuses on the loss in their life, and the pain caused by such, the less room in their head and heart there is for God. Their faith can't shine through the pain because it has consumed the person(essentially-more pain, less God) . However, the more we focus on God and our faith in both neutral and tragic times, the easier it is to realize that the pain during tragedy is only temporary (essentially, more God, less pain). God has planned for comfort in the future and if THAT is the point we can focus on, then we can heal. Granted, believing in God doesn't make the pain disappear by any means (remember-no causation), but it opens up the ability to heal in a positive way, to live focusing on God rather than the loss. It provides yet another chance to get an insight into God's plan and to strengthen the relationship between your spirit and the Holy spirit.

Even though I was able to get up and leave the movie theatre after seeing Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace Lancaster fall madly in love and then lose each other tragically, I wasn't really able to leave their pain behind. It's funny-one of the main quotes of the movie is "all pain demands to be felt"-indeed it does, but it is our choice to turn to God to help recover from the pain.

Every time I pray for a person, group or community going through something tragic I alway pray that the experience draws them closer to God rather than pushing them away. I pray they find comfort in God, not frustration, and I would encourage you to do the same.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The comfort of my Father- capital F

I gotta tell you, I'm not really a beach person. Sure, I can appreciate the beauty of a beach, the serenity of the waves and the warmth of the sun-for about a day or two. Then my body remembers the fairness of my skin and I search for any shade I can get. I am lucky enough to be babysitting here in Gulf Shores for a great family with two beautiful girls. I am also lucky enough to be watching an almost two year old who takes naps daily in the condo-out of the sun, so I get a break too!

Anyway, onto the point of this blog post. Yesterday I was taking care of Emma who had just woken up from a nap. As she was getting comfy on my lap, still a little tired, I was thinking how I was at that point, not her mother or father, completely in charge of her comfort and well being. Now after a while she stared yelling out for her mom and dad and as soon as she caught sight of them she ran towards them wanting the comfort and security they provided.

Have you ever heard (and not laughed after) someone call you a 'child of God'? In high school my group used to throw this phrase around jokingly because it just seems so-vacation bible school. But as I was acting as a pillow for Emma yesterday I finally understood what it meant. As humans we are given all these temporary forms of comfort and temporary solutions for our well being. I have parents, friends, an education, favorite hobbies, music, coffee (and maybe a glass of red wine every once in a while). All these things and more are found on Earth to keep me comforted. But every once in a while I find myself screaming out for my Father-with a capital F. I reach out for the comfort only He can provide. While I'm here on Earth that may mean prayer, a good bible verse, a church service or it may mean the angst of Him reminding me that His timing is perfect, and while different from my own, is something I just have to rely on. 

The beauty of it all, what makes life worth living, is that there comes a time that the angst is relieved. We, as Christians, do eventually get the unending comfort of being in the presence of our Father-with a capital F. Just as Travis and Laura believed I'd be a good enough fit to provide comfort for their children this week, God is providing us with what we need to survive this 'vacation' here on Earth, all the while knowing it is temporary. 

As I'm drinking my coffee this morning (with the kiddos watching Mickey Mouse, Travis out fishing somewhere and Laura hopefully having a relaxed morning) I am reminded that the serenity found in the sound of the waves and the beauty of the beach is yet another temporary comfort my God has provided for me. If all these comforts are a temporary fix, I cannot wait to see what the permanent solution feels like. 

(As this post is coming out right after Father's Day, I'd like to point out that my father- the most important lowercase f around, has provided me with the most loving, temporary comfort a girl could ask for!)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Serenity in Silence is harder that it seems

Some people DREAM of the last week that I have had. All the time in the world, the house practically to myself, with time to sleep, read, drink coffee, do yoga, (binge watch Netflix), all with a good dog by my side and no guilt for not doing something more productive.

Like I said, some people would dream of this week. I thought I did...but it's turning out to be somewhat of a nightmare. I am grateful to be finished with school, but ready to move on to my next challenge!

One of the books I have read since graduation is Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle. Boyle is a Jesuit priest in the 'gang capital of the world' who shares stories of the Homeboys and Homegirls who he helped get away from the gang life and into the 'real world'. He has some great insight into what serving the community in need is like-something I am trying to prepare myself for-hence the reading of the book.

Among the stories of those Boyle helps, he writes bits about himself. In one bit he discusses how at the beginning of his work he fully immersed himself into the issues of the neighborhoods. His work was constant. Boyle writes, he was getting too close to the sun-"the immolation that comes from burning out completely in the delusion of actually 'saving people'." Now this section made me stop and laugh because it's relatability.  In Social Work we are warned of 'burning out' as Boyle speaks of. We are warned to not take on more than we can handle, to reach out for similar help we will often suggest to our clients. The irony here is the reason most of us get into Social Work is because we care too much. Yes, we learn we can't change the world but that often won't stop us from trying.

After composing myself I pick the book back up and continue to read. Boyle talks about his own difficulty with taking breaks (something I relate too way too easily) and specifically about one he took in 1992. The serenity he found in the break came from an apocryphal story of Pope John Paul XXIII. Now if you're anything like me you had to look up what apocryphal meant( so maybe my vocabulary needs some work). After figuring out that it meant a doubtful but widely shared story I read on. Apparently the Pope would go to bed and pray "I've done everything I can today for Your church. But it's Your church. And I'm going to bed."

At some point we, Social Worker or not, have to figure out when to call it. When to give it up to God. Let His will take over. My Social Work classes were correct, we can't save the world if it means trying to impart on God's plans. What we can do is put our good hands to work and follow His will. At the end of each day though, we have to wipe those hands clean of others' burdens before they become our own-before we get too close to the sun.

The best part of helping someone is seeing the results you hope for come to fruition, maybe this is similar to the joy God feels when we trust in His plan. However, just as God doesn't make anyone believe in Him, I can't make anyone ask for my help. Believing that I can is what causes so much angst at the end of the day. I can though, be there when they do realize they need help-just as God does. This prevents me from burning out but still let's me feel like I've helped someone.

So while I still constantly remind myself to enjoy the serenity of having a break, which after the last year of school that I had is surely much needed, I also need to remember that when I do find myself immersed in situations of a needy community, I cannot carry anyone else's cross. At the end of the day, I want to be able to tell God in my prayers, "I did what I could today in Your world, but it is Your world and I am going to bed."

Saturday, April 26, 2014

A peak into the next chapter of life

His timing is incredible. Absolutely incredible. 

     My last post talked about waiting for my shell to crack. It was about how I was losing steam, wanting someone to tell me what to do for the next year, rather than seeing how far I've come. Less than 3 hours after I posted that, I had a potential job offer. One that has progressed into an official job offer that I have just officially accepted!

Let me explain...

My Lenten observance was to go to church every Sunday to get back into a Catholic community that I had been missing. The first Sunday I went to church I heard of a website that connected me to different Catholic organizations offering volunteer opportunities of differing service lengths. On a whim I applied for a year long position with the Augustinian Volunteers. That Sunday I was praying for direction (like always). The day of my last blog post was the day they would be going over my application. After reviewing my references (a huge thank you to those who helped me out!) and application they sent me an email saying they believed I would be a good fit for a non-profit organization in Philadelphia.  I interviewed with the director in Philadelphia this week and a couple hours later they sent me an official job offer! Like I said-God's timing is incredible.

Now let me explain what I'll be doing during my year of service!

The organization is in South Philly and is called "Augustinian Defenders of the Rights of the Poor". You can check out their website here. I start in August and finish up on site in June. As the Administrative Coordinator I get to be involved in a lot different areas of the community. They are involved with different school activities like after school tutoring and ESL programs. They have a health clinic within the building and promote different social justice programs. All of these areas interest me so very much and I cannot wait to see what else I get to do!

I feel so great about saying yes to a year of service. I feel great about God's timing. After all the feelings of uncertainty and anxiety stemming from what I'd be doing come May 11th, I feel confident that this is all part of His plan. He provided me with what I needed-at what He knew was perfect timing.

The more people I tell, the more it hits me-I'm going to a completely foreign city next year doing something completely new. Many people have told me how brave I am for taking this "leap of faith", but truthfully, it doesn't feel like too big of a jump. Maybe because I am comforted knowing it was God's work and maybe because I love discovering a new city. He has more great things planned for me and I am so excited to keep discovering His will.

As I asked before going to Ghana, I am not asking for prayers of safety next year, but prayers that I can continue relying on God's plan.

I can't believe it! My shell is cracking!

Monday, April 14, 2014

The struggle to survive

So for Lent I vowed to go to church every Sunday. I know I know, as a good Catholic this shouldn't be something that I need Lent to make me do but I found myself needing some sort of external motivation and Lent was it. I admit, there was a weekend or two in there that I missed, which I tried to make up for by listening to a few online homilies by Father Gary in St. Louis. Yesterday though, Palm Sunday, I found myself in the second row pew at the Catholic church here. It was great.

The homily started with a metaphor of a young girl watching baby chicks hatch from an egg. She noticed all but one had fully hatched and the one that hadn't was struggling with cracking out of its shell. So like any good little girl would do she helped it out and finished opening the egg for the little chick, not knowing that it wouldn't survive. She went back to her mom wondering why the chick didn't live. Her mother explained that it is the struggle a little chick has to crack the egg that makes it strong enough to survive later on.

The priest related this struggle and desire for help to come from Christ. We want Him to do all the hard work. If He is the son of God, shouldn't He be able to?

But this hard work, this struggle, is what gives our spirit the strength to survive in the material world. I cannot tell you how many times I have spoken with friends in the last few months about how I just wish I could know where I will end up after graduation. I don't want to do the hard work anymore. I have even asked my mom to find me a job(she wishes she could sometimes).

It's hard to see more and more friends find out their plans for the next year or so. It's hard being told by organizations I've applied to that there isn't room for me. It's hard counting down the days until May 10 when I am no longer a student. It is hard to not regret my decision to go or even apply to grad school-then maybe I would have a plan.

With each rejection though, I know my shell is cracking a little more. I just wish God would have given me an easier shell to crack.

It is easy for me to cover up my fears by telling people "I can't wait to see where God takes me" but it is freaking hard to actually believe that. I admit, I am getting a little frustrated with God and His timing. I am beyond excited for my friends who are finding out where they'll be for the next part of their life, but it sometimes just makes me more unsure of my actions. I could've applied to more places. I could have made more contacts in college. I could have done more to secure a job or placement as soon as I graduate.

I have been so focused lately on what I could have done more of that I kind of forgot all of what I have achieved. God sees that and has been trying to send me little reminders-of which I am trying to dwell on rather than on what more I could have done.

Yesterday at church I sat next to a man and his wife. He had no idea who I was, he still doesn't. When the priest was giving his homily he mentioned how as college seniors we must be wishing God could break us out of our shell (he sure hit the nail on the head). As soon as he said this, the man next to me saw that I had a smirk on my face, confirming I knew what the priest was talking about. At the end of church the man asked me what I was studying. I told him my long list and he said "wow, you must be smart." At this I laughed and said "well, I try" and it felt like before I even finished what I was saying he was shaking his head say "no, no, no, don't you cut yourself short, you have to be smart." At that moment, he pulled to something to the forefront I couldn't see because I had been focusing on everything I was lacking. I smiled and said thank you, little did he know he made me remember something I had forgotten. He made my day.

I am smart. And I have worked HARD for my degree. To that end, I will be honored before graduation at a Phi Beta Kappa sorority ceremony for those in a humanities degree who are in the top 10% of their class taking a diverse coarse load. I also just found out that I will get to wear a special tassel as a Fulbright Senior Scholar-meaning I have kept a 3.8 cumulative GPA. Who doesn't love a special tassel??

I still can't say I am fully comfortable with God's timing. Even after I figure out the next stage of my life I am sure I will find something to worry about. But that's me. I have been given a tough shell to crack for a reason and I need to remember that I am working on my strength. If God were to do all the work, I wouldn't be able to survive. As I have said in this blog before, God didn't promise an easy life, but He did promise a full one.

Inch by inch my shell is cracking and I need to remember to see my progress before my set backs. It is in my progress that I find my strength.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The power of a letter to God.

As I was taking a mental health break today from all the reading I've been doing lately(it never ends!), I caught up on some blogs. I found one a friend posted that caught my eye. It was titled "Confessions of a Christian That Still Struggles"It hit really close to home. I couldn't help but think God directed me.

Last semester I struggled, a lot. I started doing something new. Something I need to do more often. On a night where I was just about as overwhelmed as I thought I could be, I picked up my Bible and journal, stopped to get a cup of coffee(decaf of course) and just drove. I drove to Mount Sequoia. It has a great view of Fayetteville's landscape. It is the place I go to when all my problems seem bigger than me. When my emotions seem to take over. It has become my spot. Seeing the landscape of Fayetteville with all the buildings looking minuscule, their lights making the city so magical, brings me peace.

It reminds me that in the whole scheme of things, my problems are tiny. I am tiny. And my God is huge.

So there I was, car in park, coffee and journal in hand. I just started to write. Anything that came to my mind I wrote it down. Some good, some bad. Sentences, phrases, words. If the thought came through my head again I would circle them. Eventually I wrote a letter. To who? God, probably. I'm not really sure.

As I have been brutally honest on this blog in the past, I will today. The letter started out "Before and currently, I have this desire, this passion, to be known as the girl with struggles but put together. The independent, working-it-out-with-God, ever-promising, always looking for the positives girl. I want to be looked at and envious of how together I am..."

Fast forward to today. The blog that I mentioned above is brutally honest. It is of a girl who has faced struggle, a girl who has cried out to the Lord, asking to be given undeserving love and grace-multiple times. She talks of this idea many people have that as a Christian you really only ever can hit rock bottom once, then God takes over. She talks about how she didn't experience that. She hit rock bottom more than once.

Living for Christ is a constant struggle with an incredible feeling of satisfaction-if you can actually feel it. I love how she says "once we surrender (our lives to Christ), the enemy hops on us...trying to suffocate any peace and life that was so freely given to us..." The constant struggle I feel as a Christian is from said suffocation. I encounter things daily that tempt me. There are times when I successfully overcome the temptation and admittedly times when I give in. But isn't that what makes me human? And what makes God SO good? He accepts me despite my downfalls.

It's times when I remember that there is NOTHING, not even denouncing His existence, that could make my God stop loving me. Even if I fail, even if I turn away from Him, He will always have His eye on me. He will always be ready to forgive and give love. As the blogger says, "That love, that grace, is what gives me strength to fight my flesh and choose to live for Him. Not out of fear or obligation, but because His love and grace is so full force regardless."

I still have times when I feel overwhelmed. Last night I picked up my Bible and notebook and just wrote. Some good, some bad. Sentences, phrases, words. Then a letter. To who? God, probably.

And you know what? He was still listening.

He directed me today to a blog that confirmed I wasn't the only one feeling overwhelmed with worldly desires. To a blog that reminds me that it's okay to struggle as a Christian. To a blog that told me I'm not the only one that desires to be seen at as put together even when I'm not. To a blog that said I don't have to be put together to be seen as a strong Christian. It is the strength in admitting that struggle that makes me one. It is the strength in remembering to accept His undeserving love that makes me an accomplished follower.

So I admit to you today that I struggle. Constantly. But as I admit that, I find my strength.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Far from the straight and narrow.

Another (partial) snow day, another blog post. I realize this is the first blog post of my LAST semester of undergrad. Scary to think that I started this blog my sophomore year!! I've been trying to stay focused seeing as my last semester of school has arguably the most difficult courses yet. Whoever said senior year would be a breeze lied to me, or maybe they just didn't expect for me to be graduating on time with a combined major and double minor! In my mother's words, I'm "her favorite overachiever".

Anyway. I thought I would share some thoughts on how God has been working hard as I look back on my four years here.

Four years ago:

"Hi, my name is Abby MacDonald, I'm a freshman Psychology major from Saint Louis. I will be graduating in 2014 and going to get my masters in education so I can teach high school students from an at-risk, low income background." 

I had it ALL figured out. God worked on that plan with me of course, why else would He have put Young Life in my life? Why else would I have found my deep interest in Psychology from my high school psych class? That's who I was planning on being and I was happy about it. For goodness sakes I practically looked like a teacher already-cardigans and all. God was there for me and He was leading me down the straight and narrow path. Or so I thought.

A year ago:

"Hi, my name is Abby MacDonald I am a Psychology major and Social Work and African and African American Studies double minor. I will be going to grad school (not sure why yet) and will be working in the school system most likely." 


"Hi, my name is Abby MacDonald, I'm a senior combined major in Psychology and African and African American Studies with a double minor in Social Work and Anthropology. Yes I did pick up three areas of study within the last year and a half, yes I WILL be graduating on time and no I will NOT be going to grad school right away. I'm not sure exactly what I want to do but I want to find a connection to somewhere in Africa."

All this is not said to brag (although I think my parents like to brag a little bit and my sisters bored of me having to explain what I'm studying), it is said to point out that what I thought and planned on to be the straight and narrow path God set out for me was far from it. He is still working. At least I hope He is because I'm graduating in less than 100 days and still have no plan set in place for what happens after I throw my cap into the air. I know I've said it on this blog before, but God sure does have a sense of humor. He is showing me just how many twists and turns I can take. Along with the fact that those twists and turns can be fun if I let them be.

Want some more humor from God? This summer I was at my sister's wedding shower talking with Father Gary who would be marrying Kelley and Matt in no time and he asked me what I was studying. After taking a deep breath and listing what I was studying his first reaction was different than most. He said he was somewhat surprised because Psychology and Anthropology are the two areas of study with  the highest numbers of Atheists. I'm pretty sure he's right. It makes sense after some of the classes I've taken-religion doesn't necessarily sit right with some of the theories and ideas.

I was talking with my mom about the fact that I am taking a course this semester to study the modernization of Witchcraft in Africa-not really an ideal topic in my mom's opinion. I'll admit, it is a little strange that I have chosen two relatively secular areas of study. But I thrive in studying the unknown. I so much enjoy studying what makes me different, or more similar, to a group of people that I didn't know about in the past. I think a good Christian does their research. In my opinion, not studying different ways of life and the benefits of such would lead me down an ignorant path. I don't say that to make Christians who don't know the ins and outs of witchcraft look bad, but for me, I want to do my research. I want to share what I've learned and make a connection back to my faith. I love finding God in unexpected places, and for me-that means studying as many different cultures and way of life as I can.

So there you have it folks. I'm still unsure of what will come after May 10th, but God is teaching me slowly but surely that it's okay. He's gotten me through these last four years, okay truthfully the last 21 years of my life, but I can't wait to see where He takes me from here on out.