Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ruin Me

When I was in middle school, I stopped believing in God.  I think there was a piece of me that still believed He existed, but I was just so angry and bitter against who I thought He was that I refused to have faith for any longer.  I was very depressed.  Self injury became the main outlet for my feelings, which only ended up hurting my heart even more.  Over time, I became suicidal.  I hated myself and thought I was absolutely worthless.  All I wanted was to die and simply become nonexistent.

As I finished eighth grade, nothing about my life was getting better.  I was miserable, fearful, severely depressed.  Cutting was becoming such an addiction that I couldn't find a way to stop on my own, even though I could tell it was destroying every part of who I was.  While I still refused to allow myself to believe in God, one day I finally broke down and prayed something like:
"God, I've been trying to control my own life and I can't do it.  If You exist, then work through me this summer or I will end my life for good.  If You show me that You exist, You can have my life.  I don't want it anymore."
That summer, the Lord did work in my life in ways I could not have imagined.  By the time school began in August, I was on fire for Him, more so than I had ever been in my entire life.  I wanted to give everything I had to God, every single part of me.  My life was His.

All of that happened more than four years ago.  I was not yet a freshman in high school, while I am now newly a freshman in college.  In so many ways, the person who I was while I was in the midst of self injury and suicidal thoughts seems like another human being.  It all seemed to happen a lifetime ago.

I still love the Lord.  I still believe in Him.  However, I'm afraid that sometimes I forget the promise I made to Him.

He showed that He could work in my life.  He showed me that He was there.  So my life is His.

And yet there is still a piece of me that wants to take it all back and say, "Thanks for patching things up, God, but I can take it from here."  I want to do this, go there, become this kind of person.  I want to make my own plans and carve out the path for my own life.  I'm clutching dreams in my hands that are my dreams more than they are His.

I cannot forget.

Without the Lord's help, I would either be dead right now or a very angry and confused young girl, lost in my shame and bitterness.  Without Him, I wouldn't be anything.  The fact that parts of me still try to turn from Him and attempt to make my own path again is almost unbelievable.  And yet I still do this.

God, even if you must break me over and over again to gain my loyalty, then do it.  My plans on their own will only lead to sin and failure.  Your plan is so much bigger and better and more beautiful than anything I could ever imagine.  Please show me the things that You want me to pursue.  Reveal to me Your heart and Your will for my life.

A song comes to mind in this moment.  I am pretty sure it was written by Jeff Johnson, who was actually the worship leader at Impact, but I heard this song for the first time during chapel at my high school.  The lyrics are a little frightening to my selfish heart, but they are so true.  Brutally honest.  The song is called "Ruin Me."

Ruin my life, the plans I have made. 
Ruin desire for my own selfish gain.
Destroy the idols that have taken Your place,
'Til it's You alone I live for, You alone I live for.

I can never let myself forget the things God has done in my life.  I can never let myself forget that I am living for Him, not for my own glory and success.  I am His.  I must follow His plan rather than mine in every aspect of who I am.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Changing Priorities

I'd like to share a memory from Impact camp.

At Impact, there is a competition for the "spirit stick."  In order to win this spirit stick, each camp must come up with a cheer.  The cheer should be well-organized, entertaining, and very spirited.  For one cheer, my cabin (the Benjis) changed the words to "Rolling in the Deep" by Adele, singing instead, "The scars of His Son remind us of love. They keep us thinking that Jesus paid it all... Jesus paid it alllll, died for you and meeee.  He holds my heart and soul in His hands..."  Another time we changed the words to "Colors of the Wind" by Pocahontas.

Every camp becomes pretty involved in these cheers and we got to watch a lot of clever acts.  After the third day, our counselors took us aside and apologized.  We were all spending too much time trying to think of the best cheer when we should have been spending valuable time fellowshipping together and diving into God's Word.  Their words were so true and such a reminder of what a spirit-filled place Impact is.

So we stopped trying.  We only had one cheer left for the fourth day and we didn't plan for it at all.

Right before we left for the assembly, someone said, "Oh, yeah.  We don't even have anything.  What should we do?" and someone shouted a song.  The entire process took less than two minutes.  No practice, no planning.  We didn't expect to win and we didn't care.  Spending Jesus-time with each other seemed so much more important than silly cheers.

We gathered together with all of the other camps and listened to all of the cheers.  They were all so funny and entertaining.  It was such a joy to see the smiles on everyone's faces.  When it came time for our turn, we stood up and sang together:
"Jesus loves the little Benjis.  All the Benjis of the world.  Yellow, yellow, yellow, yellow, yellow, yellow, yellow, yellow.  Jesus loves the little Benjis of the world."
After we were finished, the judges deliberated together.  In a matter of seconds, they stood up and said, "The winner of the spirit stick is...... the Benjis!"

That was... us.

Wait.  What?

We stood and cheered and hugged each other like every cabin had, but surprise lit up all of our faces.  What on earth?  The one cheer we hadn't discussed or practiced won?  It was such a good feeling to know that even though we decided to put the Lord first, we didn't have to fail at everything else.

Winning the spirit stick wasn't a huge deal to us, not anymore, but on the last day of camp, it was like icing on the cake.  It brought smiles to all of our faces.  It was such a great feeling.
This experience was such a camp thing, I know.  Spirit sticks, cheering competitions, Benjians...  However, that day reminded me of real life.  Sometimes it can seem like giving up when you decide to put Christ over everything else.  Giving up a job you wanted or setting aside more time in God's Word instead of putting time into something you enjoy or want to do.

Putting the Lord first is NEVER failure.  While God should always get the glory, He will never leave us in the dust.  His plan is so much greater and more wonderful than any good thing we could ever plan for ourselves.  God wants great things for us.  He wants us to put Him first and while life won't always be easy, He will ultimately bring so much joy to our lives if we follow Him.

And you know, even if we had not won the spirit stick, I don't think it would have dampened our spirits whatsoever.  Changing priorities can sting in the moment.  It can be tough to give up something special to your heart.  But once those priorities are changed, you realize what actually matters.

In life, putting God first will always bring more joy and fulfillment than anything else ever will.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Breaking

This is a poem I found in one of my old notebooks from my freshman year of high school.  It's a little rough and didn't even have a title until I made one up just now, but some of the lines touched me.  I thought I'd share it here.  (The picture is something I took around the same time period in my life.)

Breaking.
I'm almost back to the place where I wanted to be.
I try to be You, but I still seem like me.
The world's in my ear and my heart's on my sleeve.
I try to be real, like You want me to be.
Jesus, make me like You. Jesus, set me free.

Don't let me fall back into the world.
All I want is to be Your baby girl.
And if breaking apart is what I need,
Do what it takes to truly change me.
Even though I tried with all of my might,
Now I know that I never left Your sight.

By the way, for those of you who have been asking me, "What is college like?", I'm having a Q&A about it on September 10.  If you have any specific questions, you can ask them in the comments or email them to me at jacksfavoriteowner@yahoo.com

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lizard in the Bathroom!

I've had quite a few questions from readers over the last week or two, saying, "What's college like?  Tell me about the college experience."  I used to ask the same thing.  Now I understand why college students would always hesitate when I asked and say, "Well... it's... college," like that's some sort of reasonable explanation.  I know I haven't been very detailed about my recent experiences on this blog and I'm sorry about that.  I know that not only my readers who don't "know" me would like to see some of what's going on in my life right now, but my family and friends would too.

Now, I do have a calendar to help me plan out my blog ahead of time and I have "my dorm room pictures" scheduled for September 2 and "Ali's dorm room pictures" scheduled for September 1, so that's coming up soon.  But dorm room pictures don't really show what it's like here.

To be honest, things haven't been easy.  It's tough to move ten hours away from everyone you know and love.  It's tough to be forced to make brand new friend groups and live in a brand new place.  My life has not been easy the last week and that's partly why I haven't had a whole lot to say about it.  Everything is just so new.

When you have to start over with friend groups, even when you start to finally find some friends, they're simply not close friends yet... and they won't be close friends until some time has passed and you've shared some experiences together.  Unfortunately, that means the first few weeks--or even months--of living on your own can be pretty lonely at times.  At this point, I'm at the awkward stage.  There are some great girls and guys I've met who seem Christlike and friendly and nice, but we don't really know each other that well yet.  So while we're friendly and I enjoy spending time with each of them, things are still a little weird for everyone.

Plus, it's tough being away from family.  I miss having my parents around.  I miss Ali.  I miss my little brother and sister.  I miss my doggies.  I miss my grandparents.  I miss my old bedroom.  I miss everything about my "old life."

But anyways, after this long rant, I really am doing okay.  I'm not depressed.  I'm not even miserable.  I'm just a little lonely and ready to make some closer college friends.  I've been praying hard that God would bring some GREAT close girl friends into my life and I fully trust that He will.

I thought since I've been getting so many questions about what college is like that I might do a special Q&A about it.  Over the next week or two, you're welcome to comment with any specific college question you might have.  It could be about some of the struggles and emotions involved or it could be about how I get around campus or what classes are like.  It's up to you.  Ask what you want and I'll answer your questions on September 10.

Oh, and I thought I'd share one little instance from the last few days.  Look what I found in the bathroom the other night.

That's right.  He's a lizard!

He was shockingly small.  I have very small fingers and you can see how little he is compared to them.  I don't think I've ever seen a lizard this small in my life.  At first when I saw him out of the corner of my eye, I thought he was a spider or a centipede or something and so I screamed bloody murder.  My friend and one of my suitemates both came running to make sure everything was okay.

"There's a... a... a... a lizard!" I stammered, finally realizing that there wasn't a poisonous spider in the bathroom.  Only a cute little lizard.

It didn't take long for me to catch him and put him in one of our paper Dixie cups.  Together, we all took him outside and set him free in the bushes.  He was a pretty cute little guy.

So... any questions?  Comment them below or send them to jacksfavoriteowner@yahoo.com.  I'll answer them all on September 10.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Letter to Seniors in High School

Dear seniors,
School started last week back in my hometown.  Around the same time, I began to see Facebook statuses popping up, written by the upcoming seniors at my old high school.  These statuses said things like, "I can't wait to be done with high school!" and "I already have senioritis.  I hope this year passes by fast!"  Honestly, those statuses made me a little sad.
Don't get me wrong.  I was the same way.  I vividly remember the senior girls above me, warning me "not to wish high school away."  I would usually think to myself, "You're just saying that because you're finally almost done with this nonsense!"  And I even loved high school.
When senior year rolls around, you quickly acquire this feeling called senioritis.  (You may have it already!)  The end of your high school career is in sight and everything else about high school begins to feel a bit meaningless and boring.  Graduation, college, and moving out all linger in your mind.  Some days they feel a little scary... most days they tend to feel exciting.
I thought senior year was the best year of high school.  By far.  Here are a few quick tips I wish I would have known before I started my senior year.
Be a leader.  The underclassmen truly look up to you.  Participate in Bible studies.  Reach out to the younger girls.  Strive to be kind and Christlike in everything you do and say.  Shine through your life.  You seniors are the most influential group of people in your high school.  I wish I would have reached out to younger girls more than I did when I was a senior.  Don't let hesitation and timidity keep you from shining as a leader.
Participate.  If there are senior activities, pep rallies, service projects, or even get-togethers with classmates, attend!  These are your last high school memories, so make the most of them.  You don't want to look back in nine months and wish you'd done more.
Senior year will be different from what you expect.  My friends and I all had unique experiences of expecting one thing from senior year and quickly learning another.  In a lot of ways, senior year can be hard.  Emotions will be running high.  These are your last days of high school, which is a scary thought.  Know ahead of time that you will struggle in sometimes unexpected ways.  Tough, unexpected situations might occur that you have to deal with.  Choosing an applying for college and scholarships is stressful.  Be prepared for some unexpected trials to come, but know that although they may be tough in the moment, you will overcome them and senior year can still be wonderful.
I walked into senior year thinking that the "right" college would somehow find me, that school would be a big party, that I could easily step up and be a leader and leave a legacy for my class, and that senior year would be fun, fun, fun all the time.  I was wrong.  School was still school.  I still felt shy and was often hesitant to reach out to younger girls.  Some difficult things happened in my life and in my friends' lives as well.  While senior year wasn't the 24/7 party I expected, it was still a blast.  I still made a lot of great memories and I will never forget some of the things God taught me that year.
Enjoy these moments.  Don't wish them away.  I can't repeat this enough.  Savor each moment you have left with your family at home, with your friends, at your high school, feeling like a "kid..."  Everything is about to change--and the change will ultimately be good!--but don't rush this time.  It will pass more quickly than you realize.  Senior year can be such a great year.  Don't let it go to waste.
Try to not let stress consume your life.  I know it's hard when you have deadlines, essays, and applications weighing on your shoulders.  Choosing the right university and waiting for acceptance letters can feel incredibly overwhelming at times.  Remember that it will all work out.  Spend time in prayer and Scripture every day.
Set your standards for college ahead of time.  Decide whether or not you'll be going to church, joining Bible studies, drinking, dating, having a quiet time with the Lord each day...  Set your standards and make your habits now so you won't be thrust into heavy temptation and difficult decision-making when you're in the moment.
Don't fall into apathy.  As a senior, it's easy to fall into an apathetic mindset, thinking, "None of this really matters.  I'm leaving in a few months anyway."  Don't be apathetic.  That isn't beneficial to you and it isn't what the Lord wants for your life.  My senior year, I would switch back and forth.  One month, Ali and I would be planning a big social experiment or the 30 Days of Kindness.  Another month, I wouldn't want to go out a whole lot or participate in senior activities.  Mostly, I was apathetic when it came to my schoolwork.  I procrastinated pretty badly, especially towards the end of the year.  Although I kept up with my grades and made A's, I didn't do my best, which is what the Lord asks for.  You'll probably feel apathetic at some point this year.  Even if the schoolwork is boring or if senioritis is hitting you hard, try to make the most out of the time you have left in high school.  Leave a mark for Christ on your school.  Apathy can be a huge temptation senior year.  Do not give in.  Make something great come out of your year.
I'm so excited for you as you begin your senior year.  I will definitely keep the seniors in my prayers.  You have such a large platform to make a difference at your high school.  So many kids look up to you right now.  Leave a legacy behind you as you finish up these last few months of high school.
Enjoy these moments.  Please, please, please don't wish them away.  This year has the potential to be amazing.
I love you, seniors!
-Emily
(If you're a senior and you have a specific question or prayer request, feel free to write me at jacksfavoriteowner@yahoo.com or in the comments below.)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Letter to Juniors in High School

To the juniors...
Junior year is great.  This is the year when you'll be able to start deciding which college you want to attend and what you want to do with your life without all of the pressure of being a senior.  This was one of my favorite years in high school.  (Okay, okay, I think I say that about every year, but oh well.)  You're finally an upper classman, finally able to carry more than two people around in your car, finally turning seventeen (which is the best age ever).  Here are a few pieces of advice I wish I could have known when I was starting my junior year of high school.
Start looking for scholarships now.  I started looking for scholarships too late and missed a lot of deadlines.  I didn't realize that you apply for a lot of scholarships when you're a junior.  Scholarships can be so important to help you pay for college.  Try to purchase a scholarship book online or at a local bookstore.  It'll be kind of expensive for a book, but it'll list every scholarship available for undergraduates... and there are scholarships for everything!  I know someone who was able to pay for the first two years of college just on little scholarships from a scholarship book.  You'll have to write a few essays and fill out some forms, but it'll be worth it if you can get money for college.
Seriously study for the SAT and ACT.  I didn't study for either of those tests... at all.  I'm a good test taker, so I did a pretty good job.  However, I soon learned that I was one point away from achieving automatic admission (and a scholarship) into the school I wanted to attend, which would have saved me a lot of worry.  Start studying ahead of time and even take the test once or twice while you're a junior so you can get the hang of it.  Believe me, it's boring... but the scores can earn you a lot of scholarships!
This is your most important year academically.  I was told multiple times that your grades matter the most junior year.  This year's academics are what will be examined the most, so be sure to work hard, study, stay organized, and make good grades.  Don't slack off, even when you're feeling tempted.  Once you start to apply for colleges and get rejection after rejection, you'll regret not studying.
Look at colleges now while you have time to decide.  Make a list of universities you are considering.  If you have no idea, use a website like College Board to help you decide.  List pros and cons of each one, like cost, distance, size, etc.  Once you have some ideas, start visiting.  I visited several different schools during my junior and senior year.  You will surprisingly forget a LOT about them after you leave, so be sure to take pictures and notes about pros and cons about the campus.  Try visiting a nearby school, a small school, a private school, and a state school to see which seems the most like you.  I was told that if you can't envision yourself at a school now, you won't fit in there later.  When you're a senior, you'll make the final decision, but it will be less stressful if you start deciding early.
Relax while you can.  Right now, you have time to think about which university you'd like to attend and which scholarships you can apply for and what major you'd like to choose.  Use this time to prepare for college without feeling pressured or rushed.  It's so much easier when you have two years to plan instead of only a few months... use this time to get ready.  Enjoy being relaxed and unhurried in your decision-making while you can!
Try to get involved in leadership opportunities.  You're an upperclassman, so you finally have quite a bit of influence over the younger kids in your high school, even more than you realize.  Use this year to get more involved in volunteering opportunities and in Bible studies.  This will teach you a lot about your relationship with the Lord and His plan for your life.  It will also put you in a perfect position to remain a leader when you become a senior.  Use this time as an upperclassman to shine for Christ.
Junior year has the potential to be a great year in your life.  Don't wish the time away.  Even when schoolwork, scholarships, and SAT tests seem a little overwhelming, enjoy the time you have as a high school student.  You are a leader, even more so this year since you are now an upperclassman.  Be a city on a hill for the Lord.  Let Him shine through you in every aspect of your life.
Love you, juniors!
-Emily
(If you have a specific question or prayer request, feel free to ask in the comments below or at my email, jacksfavoriteowner@yahoo.com)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Letter to Sophomores in High School

To the sophomores...
My younger sister has just begun her sophomore year of high school.  I've gotten to see a different perspective from my sophomore year.  By the time I was in tenth grade, I was a little excited about school and eager to hang out with my friends every day.  I had just met one of my soon-to-be close friend who had actually just moved to my school after being an MK in Thailand.  I was pretty excited for my sophomore year.  On the other hand, my little sister has had a harder high school experience than I did and has been pretty anxious in some ways about starting this school year.
I don't know which situation you're in right now.  Maybe you're happy or at least un-bothered about starting back to school like I was.  Maybe you're nervous about not having friends or about potential drama.  Perhaps you're starting a brand new school with different students.  Perhaps you've lost a friend or two and aren't sure what to do without them.  Regardless of your worries, sophomore year has the potential to be great.  From someone who's been there, here are a few pieces of advice.
The schoolwork will get harder, so be prepared to study.  Personally, I felt like my freshman academics were incredibly easy.  I didn't study for one test all year and I made straight A's.  Along with every single other person in my class, I flunked my first chemistry test during my sophomore year and it shocked me.  The other classes weren't nearly as hard as chemistry was, but they were harder than I was used to.  Freshman year is academically quite a bit easier than sophomore year.  Realize that ahead of time and be prepared to study a little more.  Stay organized.  Use a planner.
Continue to try hard to make good grades.  I can't emphasize that enough.  You're going to desperately want some academic scholarships when pricey college rolls around... and even though it probably seems like it, it isn't actually that far away.
Go into the school year with a good attitude.  Even if your freshman year wasn't the greatest, don't let that affect how you start this school year.  People will be able to tell if you're expecting this year to be awful.  Smile.  Be genuine.  Be nice.  Not having really close friends in high school can be a hard thing, but it doesn't have to ruin the entire experience.  Even if you don't have best friends at your school, you can still make some casual friendships and some friendly acquaintances just by being nice.  And remember... just because you didn't make any friends your freshman year doesn't mean you won't this year.
When it comes to driving, don't fall into peer pressure from your friends to break the rules.  Yay, you'll finally get your driver's license!  How exciting.  Getting your driver's license can be a scary and wonderful thing at the same time.  If I had to give one piece of advice, it would be to follow the rules.  Even if your friends tease you for following the speed limit or only carrying the allowed number of passengers in your car, it doesn't matter.  Since you're a new driver, it's soooo easy to get into a wreck.  Believe me... I got into a wreck when I was sixteen.  Follow the rules.  Be overly-cautious.  Don't let yourself fall into the "I've just been to driving school so I technically know more than experienced drivers do because I've been refreshed on the rules.  I don't need to worry.  I'm a good driver" mindset.  You are a new driver, whether or not you know all the rules.  It's easy to make new driver mistakes.  Be very cautious.  Very, very cautious.
Intentionally put your focus on God.  It's easy to fall into apathy your sophomore year, I think, because it isn't as much of a landmark year as the other high school years are.  You've already gone through the transformation process of starting high school and it isn't really time for you to start hardcore preparing for your future like you do in junior or senior year.  Sophomore year is kind of a "do your school work and be good" year.  I remember feeling like I wasn't really going anywhere sometimes.  It's so easy to become lukewarm in your faith when your life feels so monotonous.  If you start to feel this way, throw yourself into mission work and God's Word.  Ask Him to keep your heart on fire for Him and to reveal to you His plan for the year.  Sophomore year isn't never-ending or dreary, even when it sometimes feels like it is.  Keep your focus on God, even when you feel apathetic.
I loved my sophomore year.  Getting my driver's license gave me so much freedom.  For the first time, if I wanted to go to a friend's house or to the movies or to visit a new youth group, I could take myself.  I didn't have to rely on a parent to tote me around.  And hey, this is the year of your sweet sixteen.  How exciting!
No matter what you're going through this year, keep your eyes on the Lord.  He will continue to grow in your life so much.  Keep shining for Him.
Love you, sophomores!
-Emily

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Awakening Love.

Okay, girls.  This is for you.

Today I'd like to talk about dating in high school.  If you're in middle school, go ahead and add yourself into this conversation as well.

I'm JUST starting college, so I'm barely out of high school.  I remember like yesterday (because it basically was) how much pressure there is to have a boyfriend.  I remember my senior year, I mentioned to one of my friends that I'd never kissed a guy, and this friend literally said in a kind, but very patronizing way, "Awwwww, Emily.  That's so cute!  But... why?"  While I am so blessed that my closest friends also abstained from romantic relationships in grade school, I know what it's like to feel pressured to date.  I know that most people look at you like you're crazy when you say, "No, I'm not looking for a boyfriend.  I don't want a high school relationship."  I know because that's what happened to me.

And I know that it's more than just peer pressure.  Sure, it's not fun to be given strange looks and teased because of a choice, but we aren't finger puppets.  Our actions aren't controlled by our friends.  We're individuals.  We can make our own decisions.

Having a boyfriend seems wonderful.  When you watch a movie like Twilight or Dear John, how can you not feel a little ache and wish that you had a beautiful relationship like that?  I think everyone wants someone who will hold them close and love them unconditionally.  When you doubt yourself and you doubt some of your friendships and you doubt your home life and you doubt everything around you, a steady relationship with someone who loves you with every piece of his heart sounds great.  I get that.

Occasionally, a young girl writes me and tells me that she really, really, really wants to start dating in middle school or high school.  She just really, really, really wants to have a relationship with a guy who loves her.  These girls often struggle with whether or not they should give into their feelings and date someone.  When they come to me for advice, here is my typical answer:
WHY do you want a boyfriend at this point in your life?
You're obviously not ready to start looking for a spouse.  You can give me the expected argument: "I have a teacher/friend's mom/neighbor/uncle/grandparent who started dating someone in high school and they're happily married, so there."  I know, I know there are stories like that in real life.  But they aren't the norm.  In fact, they're very, very rare.  They're so rare that you can't use those instances as an excuse to start looking for a boyfriend at 15, 16, 17 years old.  In fact, I'm almost nineteen and I still struggle to imagine myself being married, even if I'm "legally" old enough.

That's the purpose of dating though, isn't it?  (If not, then shouldn't that be the purpose?)  It doesn't make sense to try to fall in love if you don't want to get married.  When you start a relationship with someone, you should be thinking: he might be the one.  In high school, it's not time to be thinking about marriage.  And if he's really the one, then why wouldn't he be willing to wait a few years for you both to grow and mature?

So if you aren't yet ready to start searching for a future husband, then why do you want a boyfriend right now?

The reason why I personally wanted to have a boyfriend while I was in high school was because I wanted someone who would love me for me.  If I got into an argument with a family member, if I had a bad day at school, if I was feeling worthless or ugly, I wanted someone who would compliment me and mean it, who would hold me close and whisper sweet nothings into my ear, who would write me songs, who would say "I love you" and mean every word.  I wanted a boyfriend so I would feel special and loved.

Is that much different from the reason why you want a boyfriend?  To feel good?

The problem about this is that when you're still in grade school, it's simply not time to awaken those romantic feelings.  You've probably heard the verse that every single Christian dating book tends to mention, Song of Solomon 2:7.
"Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you by the gazelles and by the does of the field: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires."
That verse used to bug me so much when people used it to say: "See, this verse is proof that it's a sin to date in high school!"

"Until it so desires?" I would think to myself.  "Are you kidding me?  How do you know it doesn't desire right now?  I feel like I'm ready to find love."  But let's be logical.  Yes, Mary fell in love as a young teen.  Juliet fell in love at thirteen.  But in this day and age, is it healthy to fall in love as a young teen?  Is it realistic that you'll stay together?  Is it good to fall in and out of love when you're not even old enough to drive a car?

When you're truly mature enough and ready to start looking for the guy that the Lord wants to put in your life, then perhaps it's time.  Then perhaps you can arouse or awaken love because it so desires.  But right now, what is the purpose?

Before, during, and even after a high school relationship, your thoughts and feelings will be consumed by a boy.  When you're crushing on him, you cannot help thinking about him all the time.  Believe me, I know.  Throughout the day and night, your mind wanders to him: what he's doing, who he's talking to, whether or not he's thinking about you too.  During the relationship, you'll constantly think about him and want to be near him.  After the relationship, your mind will still frequently wander to him.  You'll still want to know what he's doing, who he's with, whether or not he still thinks about you.  Your mind is going to be packed full of thoughts about this guy for a long time.

The teenage years are a time to grow closer to the Lord and develop a strong foundation in your relationship with Him.  Right now is when you need to start setting your standards and try to discover who God wants you to be.  When you're focused on a boyfriend, then it is so easy for your thoughts and your heart to become distracted from Him and instead set upon him.

Now I'm not going to go so far as to say that dating in high school is necessarily a sin, at least not in every case.  It's a tough decision that is ultimately up to you and your parents.  However, I do think that dating while in high school will most likely lead to distraction, heartbreak, and doubt in yourself, others, and even in God.

Right now, while you're growing and transforming in your relationship with Christ, ask Him to become those feelings of fulfillment and adoration that a boyfriend would give you.  I know it isn't going to be the same, but it has the potential be even better.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Letter to High School Freshmen

My sister just began her sophomore year of high school a little less than a week ago.  It's crazy to watch her enter her second year of high school and then realize that for the first time in four years, I won't be stepping through the doors of my old school anymore.  I won't be seeing the same friends everyday.  Everything will be so different.

I'm not sure when other high school classes start, but I figure it's around this week-ish.  Although I'm no longer a high school student, I thought I'd write a letter to every high school class.  I personally loved my high school experience.  I made wonderful friends and learned so much.  High school is such a transformative time in your life.  You can either learn from it and have a great time or you can become immersed in drama and hate those four years.

Over the next week or two, I'll be sharing a letter to each of the four high school classes.

To the high school freshmen...

Welcome to high school!  I remember how scary the summer before I started high school was.  Life is going to change quite a bit.  You've gone from being the oldest at your school to the youngest, but that doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing.  Other than my senior year (which kind of felt like a big party), freshman year was the most impacting, challenging, and transformational time of my entire high school career.  I made some of the best friends of my life when I was a freshman and I also grew so much closer to the Lord than I ever had before.

If I could go back and give words of encouragement and advice to myself as a freshman, these are some of the things I would say:

Work hard at school, even if no one else seems to be.  Now, I was always a straight-A student, but I didn't always make high A's because there was this general feeling of "I really need to start worrying about schoolwork sophomore and junior year, not now."  I was wrong.  The grades you make now will be very important when it comes to making the top four, top ten percent, top quarter of your class.  If you go ahead and make high grades your freshman year, you won't have to scramble as much to make the top of your class later on.  It can also help you set the study habits for the rest of high school when classes get quite a bit harder.

Anyone can be your friend.  Middle school is such a drama-filled time.  I hated it.  It can be so easy to remember the arguments and angry words from middle school and carry those grudges into high school, but that doesn't have to be the case.  Once you enter high school, you're starting over.  Even if someone was mean to you in Jr. high, you can still be friends now.  Go into high school with an open mind and be willing to make friends with anyone and everyone.  When you're open to casual friendships with everyone you meet, you'll end up making a lot more friends and you'll be a more liked and a happier person in general.

Dating is so pointless.  To be honest, I entered my freshman year of high school wanting to go on my first date and have my first crush and have a guy like me back.  When you're fourteen, fifteen years old, those things don't matter.  Dating in high school, especially freshman year, can cause unnecessary drama and heartache in your life.  Make some great guy friend and focus the rest of yourself on the Lord.

Eek_2.JPGDon't worry so much about the way you look.  Looking back on the pictures of myself when I was a freshman/sophomore in high school and the pictures of myself now, I wore so much more makeup back then.  The picture to your right is one of the examples of my too-much makeup, but sometimes even my eyeliner or natural shades of eye shadow were just too much to be me, if that makes sense, even if they wouldn't be considered too much compared to some people.  You don't have to wear makeup and always dress in cute outfits in order to be liked.  You will look even more beautiful without a whole lot of makeup, even if you don't always feel that way.  You'll be liked if you are sincere, down-to-earth, and yourself.

Use this time to grow closer to the Lord.  This will be a very transformative year in your life.  The leap from middle school to high school is pretty big.  You will probably mature a lot in these next nine months... and that's a good thing!  Be sure to spend time in prayer and studying God's Word every day if you can.  High school will change your life.  Make sure the change is for the better.  You'll want to be following the path that God has for you.

I'm so excited for you.  My freshman year of high school was so much fun.  While I did have some hard times when I was a freshman, like losing a friend to suicide and struggling through the process of overcoming self injury, I also had many, many moments of joy and transformation.
I can't say this enough times: Be sure to go into high school with a good attitude and be willing to make at least casual friends with every single person in your high school, whether or not they've been mean to you in the past... or even if they're mean to you now.  You will be respected and liked so much more if you're nice to everyone.  Keep a friendly, sincere smile on your face as often as you can remember and you will make friends.

I love you, freshmen! :)

-Emily

(If you're an incoming freshman in high school and you have some specific questions, I'll be happy to answer them as best as I can.  I'm still young and I have quite a bit of wisdom to gain, but I've been where you are now and I'll give advice to the best of my ability.  You're free to ask questions in the comments or at my email, jacksfavoriteowner@yahoo.com.)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Nice to meet you. I'm me.

This is one of those "Get to Know You" surveys that spreads all over Facebook and Tumblr.  I took this from my bloggie friend Lissa.  You should go check out her blog.  She writes almost every day like I do and has some very interesting thoughts.
This is going to be so looooooooooooong.

Your middle name, and how you feel about it
Nicole.  I like it, even though it has turned out to be a very common middle name.  When I was younger, I used to think Nicole was a beautiful name, so I'd always name my story characters Nicole.

Talk about your piercings or tattoos, if you have any
I don't have any tattoos.  At this point, I don't think I want one, but I may change my mind later in life.  The only piercings I have are my earlobes.  Very basic.  If I got another piercing, it would be on the cartilage of my ear, but I'm afraid it would turn into a cauliflower ear (Google it), which is what my doctor threatened would happen.  Yikes.

Your favorite television program
Lately I've been OBSESSED with watching "Lost" on Netflix.  It's the most consuming show I've ever seen in my life.  I started it and everyone laughed at me, but since then I've managed to get Rebekah, my brother, and even my mom addicted as well.

Write about your closest friend(s)
I have a wonderful group of closest friends.  I write about them on here frequently.  What's most important in a close friend to me is their faith in Jesus, moral standards, loyalty, and positivity.  I love being around positive people.

Tell us your 5 favorite colors
Black, white, blue, gray (I'm serious), and purple.

Your favorite season, and why?
I love summer.  I'm incredibly cold-natured, which is why you'll find me wearing a jacket most of the time, even in summer.  I was often teased for wearing long jeans and a winter jacket where I worked when everyone else wore shorts and a t-shirt.  I don't know why I'm always so cold, but I am.  Even my hands are always cold.  Whenever I'm on my computer, I'm usually wrapped up in a blanket and a multitude of sweatshirts.

How you came across blogging and how it has changed your life since starting? (I changed this slightly from "Tumblr" to "blogging" since that made more sense in this context)

I had access to a computer at a very, very young age.  My dream was always to have my own website.  I have a LOT of Free Webs and Brave Hosts from when I was younger.  I found one the other day that Ali and I made together when we were thirteen.  We read through the entire thing and laughed so hard.  So in a way, I've blogged for a long time.  I think the longest childhood blogging I did was when I had a "My Dear Diary" at eleven or twelve and thought that was a real website.  That lasted for a few months and then I switched to other things.
I started a blog on Weebly in November of 2009.  That Christmas, my cousin gave me a real blog.  It was one of the best Christmas gifts I've ever gotten because blogging has since then changed my life.  I'm able to write about everything and I have a place to put it.  I'm getting such positive feedback.  I love sharing my thoughts with the world.  Blogging is such a great outlet.
Blogging is my LOVE now.  And since I have Google Ads, amazingly I'm being paid (not much, but still) for writing about my life.  It's wonderful.  I love blogging and recommend it to anyone.  I don't think I'll ever stop.

Are you a fitness guru, or a couch potato? Talk about your exercise habits.
I tend to be a couch potato since I'm not a very athletic person, but I don't want to be!  I try to exercise even when I don't want to.

Favourite Meme at the moment?
Honestly, I don't even know what that is.

Talk about your pets, or pets you would like to have?
I have a Bichon Frise named Buddy, a Boston Terrier named Boo, and my LOVE: a Miniature Yorkie named Jack.  My family also has a lazy cat named Oreo.  I'm currently in the market for a roomie fish, which I'll be sure to introduce you to later on. :)

Your favorite bands?
BANDS?  Group 1 Crew, Superchick, Newsboys uhh... I know there are more, but I'm writing this late at night, so I'm having trouble thinking.  Group 1 Crew is amazing though.  Seriously, check them out.

Your thoughts or opinions on Harry Potter
I grew up hearing that Harry Potter was satanic, but lately I've decided to see for myself.  I honestly don't see that much of a difference between HP and a book/movie like Lord of the Rings.  I plan to read the books and watch the movie this year and make my own educated decision about them.  I hate putting something down second-hand.  I've heard the books (and movies) are fantastic, so I'm pretty excited to read them.  I may write a blog post about them later on.

Your thoughts or opinions on Mean Girls
217738_2003409523361_1187288064_2444116_435652_n.jpgIt's very funny, but very dirty.  I'm not a big fan.

Do you have any siblings?
I have a fifteen-year-old sister named Amy, a twelve-year-old brother named Luke, and a nineteen-year-old sister named Ali.

Tell us about your favorite junk food
I loooooove ice cream.  Another addiction of mine is Tostito chips.  You know, just the plain salted chips like the ones you get at restaurants.  I like fairly bland foods, so I could snack on those things all the time.  Tostito chips and vanilla ice cream is good too.  I know, weird... but good.

Your favorite Disney Princess movie
I LOOOOOOOOVE "Mulan," if she can count as a Disney princess.  She's my hero.  If not, "Aladdin" would be my second favorite.

Your thoughts on Ugg Boots
They're ugly, but so warm.

Do you drink soda more often than milk? 
I'm addicted to soda.  It's so bad.

The initials of your crush(es)
At this point, I don't have a crush, I'm afraid.  Maybe someday though. :)  I still wouldn't share his initials on here though.  Way to be obvious.

Do you wear glasses? If so what are they for?
I used to wear glasses.  I got them at a young age--six or so--and I ended up becoming blind as a bat, as my dad used to say.  I eventually switched to contacts, which was a big relief.  I wasn't a big fan of how I looked in most glasses.  My senior year of high school, my contacts started driving me crazy.  My eyes itched and even started to hurt.  I went to the eye doctor several times and determined that I was allergic to contacts and could never wear them again.
It was so frustrating to have to wear glasses every day for the first time in years.  I was so limited on what I could do while still being able to see.  No more swimming or water fights.  Even fixing my hair in the morning was different.
In May of this year, I got LASIK surgery.  It was one of the biggest blessings of my entire life.  I'm so thankful for that surgery.  You can't even imagine what it's like to SEE without assistance for the first time in so many years.  I don't have to worry about contacts or glasses anymore.  This surgery changed my life.  I'm so blessed.

Your favorite subject to study
English.  I love that subject.

Do you play a sport? Tell us about it. If not, talk about a different hobby you may have
I don't play a sport.  I used to be on the swim team my freshman year of high school, but I despised that sport.  It doesn't help that I don't like water.
Another hobby would be guitar.  I have been playing since I was twelve years old.  Although I'm not nearly as good as I should be after playing for nearly seven years, I still love the guitar.  Most people play the guitar for the joy of playing the guitar, but for me, it's more of a tool to help me write my songs.  So even when I play the guitar, I'm usually writing.  Funny.

Your opinions on Lady Gaga
I've been praying for her a lot lately.  My heart hurts for her.  She's such a confused, messed up, strange woman.

Tell us about the last movie you saw in theaters
Okay, so let me admit something real quick.  I'm writing this blog post about two weeks in advance.  I knew ahead of time which days I would be traveling, at Impact Camp, and moving Ali (and myself) into college, so I knew which days I probably wouldn't be available to write.  So I wrote several posts far ahead of time.  So this is being written quite a while in advance.
So as of right now, the last movie I saw in theaters was "Captain America."  It was so good, guys.  You have to see this movie.  There weren't any cuss words other than "h-ll" used once or twice, the violence was minimal, and there were two minor kissing scenes in the entire movie.  In fact, Captain America frequently talks about how he's waiting for the right girl to come along in his life.  It was a great movie.

Tell us about the last book you read
Again, as of this far-in-advance moment, I read "Forbidden" by Tosca Lee and Ted Dekker, which is due to come out in September of this year.  It's amazing, guys.  Go pre-order it right now.  Tosca Lee and Ted Dekker are both such talented writers.

Name one place you would love to visit one day
Australia.  I've always wanted to visit Australia.

Name your 3 favorite girl names, your 3 favorite boy names and your 3 favorite names for a pet
Girls: Charlie, Blake, Noah
Boys: Jack, Colton, Charlie
Pet (my future Yorkie): Chewy, Charlie, Baby
Yes, I really like the name Charlie.

Your first celebrity crush!
This would be Johnny Depp.  I used to love him so much in middle school.  I had two big posters of him up in my room.  I still most definitely think that Johnny Depp is good-looking.  Very good looking.  And I still make sure I go see any movie he is in.  But I wouldn't call my infatuation with him a crush anymore.  No, Elvis has taken that place in my life.  I also used to have a small crush on Billy Gilman, back in the days when I actually liked some country music.

Your opinion on television and the show Glee
Glee: I haven't even seen one episode.
Television: I like television, so long as it doesn't consume your life.  These are the shows I enjoy: House, Pysch, Monk, Biggest Loser, Law and Order: SVU, American Idol, and Lost.  Occasionally I'll watch an episode of Dateline or America's Got Talent with my family as well.

Take a picture of yourself and post it or post the most recent picture of yourself that you can find
Haha, I cropped this picture because I was afraid for my life.  It was right after Rebekah and I drew all over Ali's face with Sharpie.  Ali happened to be making a funny face at that moment... so I don't think she'd appreciate me posting the full picture on the internet.  This isn't a very flattering picture of myself either, but I had to be honest.  This is the most recent picture of myself as of right now.  Sigh...
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If you take this survey and put it on your blog, leave the link below so I can go read your answers. :)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Stones, Pearls, and Peace

Z: Zen.  What calms you down?
Fear is one of my biggest struggles.  I've dealt with anxiety my entire life, as you can read in my testimony.  The Lord has helped me overcome so much, but at times, I still struggle.  I am frequently tempted to doubt and turn to fear rather than to peace and joy.

The last few months, my anxiety has increased quite a bit.  I think it's because I know I'm about to leave home and live ten hours away from my friends and family.  I know I'll be on my own.  I'm going to have to make an entirely new group of friends.  It's a scary thought.  I don't like change at all, and moving away is going to be a huge change all at once.

While I've been prepP1030398.JPGaring to move away, I've been very focused on creating an environment in my future dorm room that will be very peaceful and calming.  A sanctuary of sorts that will be a place to go and be alone with the Lord when I'm feeling overwhelmed.

Some things calm me more than others.  For some reason, stones are a symbol of peace to me.  Ever since I got my laptop in December, I've refused to change the background.  If you have a Mac, then you perhaps can think of which background it is: round, smooth stones.  I have a "peace" playlist that I listen to when I'm having trouble at night.  One of the first songs on the list is "Stones Under Rushing Water" by NeedtoBreathe.  For some reason, it always gives me a sense of peace and security when I hear that song.

Crosses and pearls always give me a sense of peace.  For graduation, a friend of mine gave me a BEAUTIFUL cross that he made himslef.  It'll be placed on my dorm room wall, first thing.  It's stunning.  Certain colors calm me more than others.  Gentle shades of blue.  Some purples.  Black and white.  My dorm room colors are the same colors of my room back at home; since I don't like change, I think having similar bedrooms will ease the adjustment.

I put calendars everywhere, on nearly every wall.  For some reason, knowing the day always gives me a sense of security.  Right now I have five calendars sitting out in my bedroom.
A friend gave me a book called "Jesus Calling."  It's a devotional filled with an uplifting message from the Lord for each day of the year.  The devotions often focus on overcoming fear, peace, and transformation in Jesus Christ.  Little else gives me more peace than a chapter or two of the Bible, a few moments of prayer, and an entry from "Jesus Calling."

Writing will always calm me.  Sometimes I'll stay up all night scribbling into a journal or typing on my computer.  Occasionally if I write fiction, I'll become so worked up and involved in the experiences of my characters that I'll be wired and shaken for days... but even then, I feel a sense of peace in life.  When I'm writing for this blog, I almost always feel a sense of peace and calm.

The transition to college will probably be hard on me at first.  I have trouble with change and new things.  However, I am cradled in the Lord's arms.  I know He will not let me go.  I must constantly remind myself that I am not alone.  I have Him.  He will always protect me.  There is no need to be afraid.

Peace is such a beautiful gift from the Lord.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Young at Heart

Y: Young at Heart
(Before I start today's post, I'd like to let y'all know that I'm writing this in advance.  Right now, my mother, Ali, and I are traveling.  We'll be moving Ali into her dorm room at her school and then moving me into my dorm.  This is a big and emotional step in both of our lives.  It's going to be so hard to leave our family and each other.  Please pray for this process and for traveling safety.  Thanks, guys.)
There are so many ways I'm still young at heart.  In fact, sometimes I feel like there's no way I should be eighteen and moving out of my house right now.  I'm too little!
One way I've kept my youth is by somehow making friends with childlike people.  I don't mean this in an insulting way whatsoever.  None of my best girl friends have ever kissed a guy (and most of my guy friends have never kissed a girl!).  We all love Winnie the Pooh, Veggie Tales, and Disney animated movies.  We listen to Disney princess songs like normal music.  We have very innocent fun, like playing in the park or playing board games in my living room.  I love how innocent and childlike my friends are.
While I don't think it's good to be so sheltered that you have no idea about the real world, I do think it's fantastic to be "like a child."  That is how many of my friends are.  That's also what I strive daily to become.
Here are ten ways I've been "young" with my friends this year:
1.) We always manage to throw interesting birthday parties.  For my friend Zeek's, we threw a big party at a Japanese fast food restaurant (yummy!).  We all wore little birthday hats (he had to wear his big one all day) and took group hug and "Zeek huge smile" shots.  It was so much fun.
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2.) We don't mind embarrassing ourselves sometimes for the sake of fun.  For Rebekah's birthday last year, we dressed up in tie-dye party hats and bandanas over our faces.  We sneaked into Old Navy where she was shopping, got a LOT of funny looks, and kidnapped her from behind.  After kidnapping Rebekah, we went to my house, literally had a dance party in the rain, took silly pictures in our party hats, and played "Clue" in the living room with about twelve people.  :)
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3.) I prank people quite often.  Occasionally Lukie (my little brother) and I will lock Ali out of the house.
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Or Rebekah, Lukie, and I will duct tape her to a column in my house.
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4.) I get excited over the smallest of things, like finding a giant baby carrot in our vegetable tray.  At this particular moment, I was so excited that I made my entire family stop dinner, find the camera, and take a picture of me holding the carrot next to a normal-sized baby carrot.  This was all very delightful to my younger siblings.
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5.) I dress my dogs up in cute outfits and pose them for pictures.  You've seen a lot of pictures of Jack in his sweaters and A&M jerseys, but here's a picture of my dog Boo in a fluffy winter coat.  Doesn't she look like she loves it?
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6.) I play pattycake with Rebekah.
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7.) I love to have picnics with my friends.  We even use a picnic basket!  We'll bring handmade sandwiches or kids' Lunchables.  I've never grown out of Lunchables.  One of my friends from work said he always thinks of me when he sees a Lunchable at the store because that's what I would bring every day for lunch!
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8.) My friends and I will literally play for hours on a playground meant for little kids.  We swing, play "Lava Monster", tag, and we'll even ride the little horse see-saws.  One of the best park games is this tilting thing that kind of sways back and forth.  It doesn't go very fast, but when we're in the moment, you'd think we were on a roller coaster.
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9.) Sometimes my friends and I dress up.  I try hard to look like a gangster, but I always end up looking like a little kid.  I am terrible at being tough!  However, when we went to a deli, my friend Zeek scared everyone inside.  He can totally pull off gangsta, even though he's the opposite!  You can see how he ACTUALLY dresses in the picture above.
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10.) And finally, we love to play with makeup, even if we look CRAZY after we're finished.  I remember caking on a ton of makeup when I was a little girl and running up to my mom.  She started laughing and said I looked like a clown.  I was devastated, thinking I looked like a princess, when I probably DID look like a clown with bright red lipstick, blue eyeshadow, and red spots on each cheek.  I remember looking at my reflection in the mirror, thinking, "I don't see how I look so funny!"
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So those are ten ways I'm youthful.  I hope I stay youthful forever!  It's so fun to be young.
How are you like a child?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Facing the Cliff of Courage

X: Something X-Treme you've done

I'm a very cautious person.  While my friends speed in the car, I nervously drive the exact speed limit.  When we're outside in the dark and we hear a noise, my initial instinct is to blindly run in the opposite direction.  I'm an anxious person... but I'm working on it!

I've traveled a lot in my short lifetime, visiting about fourteen countries (including the United States).  During each trip, I usually end up doing something quite adventurous that shocks people who know me.  When I travel, it's like I lose quite a bit of my nervousness and I want to experience new and crazy things, like petting the wild cheetah in Kenya or moving in with a European host family and attending an Austrian school for a few days.  I don't mind adventure when I'm traveling, especially when I'm on a mission trip.  Of course, some things intimidate me much more than others.

Two of my worst fears are outside water and heights.  When I say outside water, I mean that I'm not afraid of swimming pools, but I'm terrified of lakes, ponds, creeks, oceans... anything outside that I can't say for sure what's inside.  When my friends decided to go on a canoe ride in the creek near Rebecca's house, it took them quite a while to convince me to crawl into that rickety canoe... even though the water was only four or five feet deep and I know how to swim very well.  I'm just afraid of water.  It's an irrational fear of mine.  (I'm the one in the blue sweatershirt, clinging desperately to the sides of the canoe.)


When I was in Mexico on a vacation with my family, we went to Xel-Ha, an outside water resort.  It's very beautiful with fun things to do like ziplining, hikes, snorkeling, and an activity that literally made me feel sick to my stomach at the name.

The Cliff of Courage.

The cliff was about twenty-seven feet tall, hanging over a lake with dark green water.  My two worst fears, mixed into one.  Immediately, I crossed that off my list of possible activities.  There was no way I would ever take the plunge off of a cliff like that.

My dad is also afraid of heights--perhaps even more so than I am--so throughout the day, we made bets with each other: "I'll jump if you jump," both thinking there was no way the other would ever dare to jump off the Cliff of Courage.  Who would willingly throw themselves off a thirty foot cliff into opaque, fish-filled water?  It was ridiculous.

All throughout the day, I had a queasy feeling in my stomach.  I attempted snorkeling and ended up clambering out of the water faster than I even thought was possible once I looked through my goggles and saw giant silver fish resembling sharks swimming beneath me.  There is no other animal that scares me more than a shark.  I knew what the last activity of the day would be.  I dreaded even climbing to the top of the cliff with the others and looking down over the murky water.

As we began the hike up the cliff, something suddenly tweaked inside of me.  The bet between me and my Dad had spread around our group and everyone was teasing us for our fear.  "I can do this," I started thinking to myself.  "I can show everyone how brave I am.  I can do this."  My fear began to subside more and more until we were at the top of the cliff and I was standing over the edge.

"I'll go first," I heard myself say as I dropped my towel to the ground.  My knees were shaking and I knew that if I stopped for even one second to think about my decision, I would never have the courage to jump into that fish-infested green water.

I glanced at my dad, smiled at the expression of horror coming over his face, and then jumped.

The fall was quick.  All I can remember is the feeling of, "I'm gonna die.  I'm gonna die.  I'm gonna--" SPLASH!  And I hit the water.  It stung the bottoms of my feet and for a moment, I was sure I would be devoured by a mob of angry fishes.  I scrambled out of the water as fast as I could and then stood on the shore with my fists raised.  Victory!  I had jumped off the Cliff of Courage.  I faced my fears.

Hilariously, my dad never could gain the courage to jump that day.  He was very embarrassed, but just like I was afraid I would do, he waited too long to jump and psyched himself out.

Jumping off the Cliff of Courage may or may not be as extreme as strolling through the third worst slum in Africa or visiting the gas chambers in a concentration camp in Austria.  Perhaps the Cliff of Courage doesn't even seem intimidating whatsoever to most people.  I don't know.  All I know is that in my mind, it's the bravest thing I've ever done.  I faced two of my worst fears and made it out alive.
But do know that I will NOT be doing something like that again.

What is your biggest fear? Have you ever faced it?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Unafraid, Yet Terrified

I wrote this on October 6, 2009 after a tough day volunteering at a family homeless shelter.
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She stumbled into the room with frightened eyes. Three young children followed at her feet, somber and bewildered. She was high as a kite and couldn't walk straight, let alone think clearly. "I just don't know what to do anymore," she mumbled, coming to sit down in a chair. "I can't stay. I need a smoke. I can't stay in here." Trembling, she took her crying toddler by the hand and rushed out of the room, ignoring the pleas of my grandmother. "I need a smoke. I'll be back later. I can't take this right now."

Her other two children sat in silence, staring at me with forlorn expressions. I spoke to them with a huge smile on my face, pretending like nothing was wrong. Like their weeping mother hadn't just fled the room, leaving a trail of confusion behind her. Like there weren't any problems.

I try to make the class an escape for the kids, a place where they can go to laugh and play games and win prizes and have fun and learn about Jesus without having to think about the crappiness of life. For an hour out of the week, there are no problems.

My lesson was about how Jesus calmed the storm and how He could help them with tough stuff in life, just like He helped His disciples. Towards the end of the lesson, I said, "Raise your hand if you have ever been scared." My point was going to be that when you're scared, you can put your trust in Jesus and He will help you.

Everyone raised their hands, grinning sheepishly, except for the two children. "I don't get scared," the little girl said.

I smiled at her. "You NEVER get scared? I sure get scared sometimes."

"Well, I don't."

"Not even when you were little?"

"No. Never." She looked at me with defiance shining in her blue eyes, daring me to disagree.

"Wow, you must be really brave."

She nodded her head, completely serious. "I am."

Her younger brother peered at me through his bangs. "I don't get scared either."

I didn't press them any further. "Wow," I said. "These guys NEVER get scared. I've never heard of anyone who hasn''t ever been scared before." And then I went on with the lesson.

Later, we saw the mother outside, standing in the chilly autumn breeze. Terror was stretched across her face. "They're making us leave tomorrow," she said hoarsely. "I have to go back to hell."

We bid farewell to the mother and her children, watching as they stood close to each other, connected by a bond that only hard times could create. As I slid into my grandmother's car, we stared at each other for a moment, sharing a single thought, "Where else do they have to go?"

An abusive father? The streets? A crack house?

The mother is in a terrible situation. That's bad enough. But even worse, there are three little children caught up in the middle of their mother's problems. Who knows what they go through each day? Who knows what they see, what they hear, where they have to sleep at night?

The mother was on drugs. I realize that drugs aren't allowed in Faith City. But what about her kids? Where do her babies have to live after tomorrow? Who is there to look out for them when their world is crashing down around them?

"I'm not afraid." A protective wall was rigid in the little girl's eyes, separating her emotions from the world. She has no one but her two brothers and a mother who can't even walk straight. How can she rebound from problems that leave her drowning when nobody is offering her help?

As Christians in modern day America, how far do we need to go to protect these children? How long are we going to sit here and watch them take blow after blow after blow? How many blows can they bear until they shatter into a thousand pieces?

And why haven't we helped them before now? I can't help but wonder.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Goodbye, Comfort Zone

I recently got back from Impact camp.  To be honest, I was dreading it more than I would even admit aloud.  I was pretty sure I wouldn't enjoy Impact, but I was attending because I felt like I desperately needed to meet some Christians who were going to A&M.  I dreaded being surrounded by people I didn't know.  I dreaded attempting to sleep in a room filled with other people.  I dreaded being outside in the heat for hours at a time.  I dreaded using up a few of the precious days I had left with my family.

Even as Mom, Amy, and I pulled into the parking lot and were surprised to see several brightly-dressed counselors cheering and waving us inside, I was feeling panicked and saying, "I don't think I can do this.  Camp just isn't my thing.  I don't think I can do this."

Sometimes if I had my way, I think I would allow my fear to define me.

I plastered a smile on my face, my typical reaction to new places and frightening crowds, and shuffled through the registration line.  I received a yellow lanyard with my name written on a laminated tag that said "Benjians."  I was ushered into a large, loud group of other yellow-wearing teens.  The counselors were dressed in neon hats, tutus, and tall socks.  They had all bleached their hair and many were whooping like Indians.  We were the Benjians, after all.

Everyone was meeting each other, shaking hands, laughing and joking.  I continued to smile, but inside, I felt like my world was crumbling around me.  This was so far outside my comfort zone that any sense of security or calmness seemed too far behind me to ever find again.  Having a "speed dating" session during the two hour bus ride to the campgrounds and meeting about fifty people during this time did nothing to calm my nerves.  So many faces.  So many names.  So many stories.

I went to Impact camp figuring I would hate it while it lasted, but that it was necessary to make some great Christian friends, so I would try to make the most of my situation.  I had no idea how much I would actually enjoy myself while I was there.

An honest fear of mine was that it would be difficult to find other Christians at a state school.  After attending Impact, I have no doubt that God is moving at A&M and that I can be a part of His work.  I learned that 1 in 7 kids at A&M will have gone to Impact, which is fantastic.  I went to a ministry fair and found some great church and mission prospects.  I made some great Christian friends.  My counselors were so enthusiastic and Christ-like.  By the end of the week, I looked up to them so much.

God really taught me a lesson during those days.

Just because something is outside of my comfort zone doesn't mean that it isn't a good thing.  Yes, throughout the entire four days, I was continually thrust into situations that made me feel anxious and uncomfortable... but that wasn't bad.  Without Impact, I think I would be much more terrified about moving out in a few days than I am right now.

Impact is doing huge things for A&M.  I've never been so impressed with a camp before.  Impact finds counselors who are willing to be very active in the lives and spiritual walks of their kids, even after camp is over.  Impact has prayer teamers who are constantly in prayer for the freshmen.  Everyone prepares for Impact and prays over the freshmen eight months before the camp even begins.

Christian friendships are made, a community is created, and much-needed advice is given.  I was shown the importance of attending church while in college and of getting involved in a Christian organization right off the bat.  I was told ways to balance studying and social activities.  I learned the importance of being a light for Christ every step of the way.  We got the opportunity to meet representatives from churches, Bible studies, and Christian sororities and fraternities.  In breakout sessions, we were taught how to glorify God through our lives while at A&M.

I learned so much and even though I felt uncomfortable at times, I am so glad I went to Impact.  I've never been so glad to have been thrown out of my comfort zone.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Beauty

My latest song.  I've had it churning around in my mind for a while now and I hope to get it up on YouTube before I leave.

Beauty

I can't see past this moment. How will I get through?
It's hard in times like these to keep my eyes on You.
The depths of who You are I know I'll never comprehend.
My heart is faltering, so could You show me once again?

Where is beauty? Where is love?
Sometimes hope, prayer, and faith just don't seem like enough.
And where are You, God? Can't You see?
That in all my fears and struggles, I need beauty.

It feels like I keep breaking no matter how I try.
I've faltered. I have failed You. I've hidden and I've cried.
I don't understand why things happen like they do.
So much seems to matter when it should be only You.

Where is beauty? Where is love?
Sometimes hope, prayer, and faith just don't seem like enough.
And where are You, God? Can't You see?
That in all my fears and struggles, I need beauty.

I know Your plans are bigger than me.
I know You truly know what's best.
I know You see everything when I never will.
I know, I know...
Sometimes I only need to be reminded.

You are beauty. You are love.
When I shatter into pieces, only You can be enough.
I am cherished. You rescue me.
You hold me in Your arms and I see beauty.

Emily Whelchel, 2011

Comfort, Oh, Comfort

W: Wearing
I generally prefer comfort over style.  My favorite outfit would be a pair of cargo shorts and a t-shirt, like what you see below.  (In this picture, I'm actually standing in the closet of my future dorm room... but the outfit worked with this post, so there you go.)


I feel very comfortable with myself in shorts and a t-shirt, usually even more so than in a cute outfit.  This is probably because when I am wearing a cute outfit, I am more self-conscious about the way I look.  When I'm wearing a t-shirt, I'm supposed to look casual, so my hair and makeup just don't matter.

In fact, I'm wearing a t-shirt and a pair of Old Navy running shorts at this very moment.


When it comes to an actual cute outfit, I do have one that is most recently my favorite.  Yes, I'm wearing skinny jeans.  I'm normally not a fan of skinny jeans, but my mom asked me to try them on in the store, and with certain long blouses, I'm actually okay with how they look.  Both the jeans and the blouse are from Forever 21.  The blouse is white and navy blue with a neat tribal print.  It's very comfortable.  What I like most about it, I think, is that it's out of my ordinary style.  Most days I'll wear shorts and a t-shirt, but when I branch out and wear something new and different, I'll get a lot of hugs and compliments from my friends.

This probably won't be my favorite outfit for much longer because I recently purchased several "ahem... special occasion" outfits with my grandma (her term for "date" outfits).

What do you like to wear?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I tend to be ungrateful.

Lately I've been complaining about something.

Our well is going dry, which I've mentioned before, and what water we have left has turned a cloudy brown color.  Some days are better than others, but recently, the water has been dirtier than ever.  Sand coats my shower drain.  When I turn on the sink faucet, water pours out and turns the sink brown in a matter of seconds.

The other day, I didn't realize the water had gotten worse, so I took a quick shower before going to bed.  The next morning, I noticed that the bristles on my hairbrush were stained brown.  Disgusted, I rubbed them clean, but when I ran the brush back through my hair, the bristles came back brown again.

I was horrified.

My hair was so covered in sediment that it felt stiff to the touch.  It felt like I had gone outside and bathed in a mud puddle.

Lately I've been complaining.  Our water situation makes me feel incredibly frustrated.  Not being able to wash clothes, dishes, shower... not being able to grab a drink from the faucet.  It's inconvenient.  Annoying.

And then today I was looking through some photos I took when I was in Kenya, Africa.  One picture in particular stood out vividly to me.  Do you see what is captured in this blurry photograph?


Women are gathering water from the puddles that line the side of the road.  They'll use this water for drinking, washing, bathing.

While I was in Kenya, I saw the water that pooled along the roads.  See for yourself:


It's filthy.  Feces, debris, and insects fill the water until it more closely resembles sludge.  People walk barefoot through this water.  Kids use the streets as a toilet.  Pigs, cattle, and dogs roam the slums, sharing the water as well.

I wouldn't subject my dog to the water those women were collecting.  Their water is filled with life-threatening diseases like cholera.  My water is a little sandy.  You know, I bet they would take the quality of water from my well and feel grateful.

At least I have other alternatives.  I don't have to drink our well water.  I use water bottles.  I can shower at grandparents' homes.  I don't have to use the dirty water coming out of our faucets.  Even if the water in my shower is sandy, I am still surrounded by access to clean, sanitary water.
I am so blessed.

When I'm thirsty, I can have a drink without worrying about cholera and parasites.  I can wash my hands and my clothes.  I still have water, even if it's not always the prettiest or most accessible.

And in a matter of days, I'll be living in a dorm with total access to clean water again.  I'll be able to brush my teeth using water from the sink.  I'll be able to grab a glass of water during the night, wash my clothes, rinse off my dishes.  There will be a pool and a fountain outside.  How could I not feel incredibly blessed?

I don't ever want to forget how blessed I am with the gift of water, even when it doesn't always come in the way I want it.  The Lord has provided me with so much.  I take my blessings for granted so often.  My ungrateful attitude needs to change.  No more forgetting.  No more complaining.
It's time to be thankful.