Thursday, March 29, 2012

The 5 Love Languages

I know it's been four days since I've posted anything on this blog, but I have been absolutely overwhelmed with schoolwork this week (and honestly, next week will be just as busy).  I am trying to arrange my schedule so that I can have more time to blog, but I would certainly appreciate your patience and your prayers.

You may have participated in the survey I held on this blog.  The question was: What is your love language?  Here were the results.

Quality Time seemed to be the leading love language, getting more than half of the votes.  No one who reads my blogs seemed to have the love language of receiving gifts.  For the 7% of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, the 5 Love Languages were invented by Gary Chapman, a Christian author and marriage counselor.  Here is the link to where you can take the test for yourself and I encourage you to do so.  The love languages were originally created to help married couples learn how to live together in peace and joy.  Everyone loves and receives love a little differently.  

Love languages can also be used in family and friend relationships.  For example, if your friend feels love through words of affirmation and you only show her love through physical touch, your relationship will be more distant than if you showed her love in the way she understands it best.

In my friend group back in high school, we all took the love language test and used it to deepen our friendships and grow closer to each other.  My sister Ali and I have vastly different love languages.  Her first love language (physical touch) is my last love language.  My love language, quality time, is her third or fourth.  Understanding this about each other helped us make an effort to show one another love in our languages.  I attempt to hug Ali and touch her arm more often than I once did, and she realizes that when we're gone at college, it's important to me for her to make an effort to keep in touch.

As you can see above, there are five different love languages:

Words of Affirmation is when you receive love through words of sincere encouragement and love. 
Example: "I love you."  "Hey, your friendship means a lot to me."  "You are so talented at playing the piano.  I love hearing your music."   
 Avoid: Too much or too harsh criticism.  Words can especially hurt for people who have this love language.  

Quality Time is when you receive love through one-on-one time and undivided attention.  
Example: Making an effort to meet your friend at a coffee shop to have a one-on-one conversation.  Initiating some of your hang-outs.  Keeping in touch.
Avoid: Texting or watching TV when having a conversation.  Canceling hang-outs multiple times.  Never bothering to have one-on-one conversation.

Receiving Gifts is when you receive love through the time and effort it takes for someone to make or purchase you a thoughtful gift.  
Example: Making a special effort to give someone a unique and thoughtful gift for a holiday.  Giving flowers or a sweet note "just because."  Remembering birthdays and special events.
Avoid: Forgetting this person's birthday.  Giving a thoughtless gift that doesn't carry much meaning to you.  

Acts of Service is when you receive love through thoughtful gestures and a helping hand.  
Example: Spending an afternoon helping your friend move into her new apartment.  Doing the dishes without asking.  Offering to cook dinner.  
Avoid: Being lazy and never offering to help out your friend.  When she has to do all the work, she feels unloved. 

Physical Touch is when you receive love through physical contact.
Example: Hugs.  Touches on the arm when you talk.  Even touching your foot against her leg when you are sitting side-by-side at the movies.
Avoid: Not hugging your friend.  Keeping a physical distance in conversation. 

The five love languages have made a difference in the lives of my friends and me.  After knowing your friends' love languages, you can better know how to serve them and show them how much you care.  Ephesians 5:21 encourages us to submit to each other in reverence for Christ.  Loving your friends in their own languages can be a perfect way to serve them and submit to their needs in love.  

If you have never taken the love language test, I encourage you to do so.  If you have, I challenge you to read Gary Chapman's book or at least take a look at his website,  

What is your love language?  Has knowing your love language helped you to communicate with your family and friends?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Red, Brown, Yellow, Black, and White

Ali brought home three girls over Spring Break: Jordan from Louisiana, Nadia from Brazil, and Rand from Palestine.  Between all of us, we knew: English, Spanish, American Sign Language, Portuguese, French, and Arabic.  We were a rainbow of colors and cultures and funny stories, but we all hit it off quickly.

I met the girls a couple of days into Spring Break.  They had all heard about me from Ali, but since I had recently cut my hair, they weren't prepared that I would look different from my Facebook pictures.  I met them and shook their hands and they all smiled politely and then Ali said, "This is Emily."  Rand shouted, "OH, it's Emily!" and gave me a huge hug.  After that, we were all friends.

It was easy to become friends with the girls.  They were all sweet Christian girls with a heart for the Lord and a cheerful demeanor.

I am fairly certain the girls got a glimpse of the American Experience, what with the camping, Big Texan, Cadillac Ranch, thrift store shopping, and lunch at a 1950's diner.

They even saw some horses tied in front of Dairy Queen.  At the sight of the horses, Rand shouted from inside the car, "Can we stop?  I've never seen real cowboys before!"  I'm sure that was remedied when they had dinner at the Big Texan, one of the biggest attractions of the Texas Panhandle.

Perhaps in a couple of summers, I will be able to go stay with Rand in Palestine and have the Palestinian Experience.  (We are hoping.)

My grandma actually called the newspaper because she was so amused by our friendship.  (I'm not kidding.)  What a wonderful world we live in that girls from so many different places can connect like we have.  

Laughing, we sang, "Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.  Red, brown, yellow, black, and white, they are precious in His sight.  Jesus loves the little children of the world."  Ali stopped us and said, "Wait, wait, wait... but who of us is red?"  

I truly am serious about the newspaper part.  Apparently, there will be an article about us in the newspaper soon.  I'll share it with you all whenever it comes out.  I'm not exactly sure yet what the content will hold, but my mom's response was: "You can sure tell we live in a small town if this makes the newspaper!"
I loved meeting these girls in person and getting to know them all (and I hope I'll get to spend more time with them in the future), but I will especially miss my dear sister, Ali.  How I wish we could have spent a little more time together!  But hey, that's always what I wish when we have to leave each other again. 
Thankfully, Easter is only three weeks away.  Much better than the two months we spent away from each other this last time.
This semester is passing so quickly! 

Honestly, I'm feeling a little bittersweet about it.  I have some great plans for the summer (some news I have yet to share) and Impact camp.  Next year I will be moving into a house with Rebecca and two other sweet girls.  I am excited to be through with a couple of the difficult classes of this semester.

However, I've enjoyed aspects of this semester so much that it will be sad to have them end.

For now, I will thrive in the moments of this semester I have left.

Friday, March 23, 2012

How to Overcome Homesickness at College

Out of all the emails and comments I receive from high school students who are worried about college, homesickness is the most frequently mentioned topic.  By far.

I struggled intensely with homesickness during the first few weeks of my first semester of college.  Living nine hours away from my family weighed heavily on me.  I knew hardly anyone in Aggieland.  Going from a loving, comfortable environment to a place filled with friendly but unfamiliar faces was difficult.  I am currently in my second semester of college.  The difference in my emotions between this semester and last semester is astronomical.  I can say with confidence that I am no longer homesick.

The first two weeks of school, I cried every day.  And I don't say this to scare you.  I am sharing this so you can know that homesickness exists for college freshmen, it's normal, it's hard at first, but it gets better.  I was able to overcome my homesickness with both time and the Lord's help.

For those of you who are concerned about homesickness when you enter college, here are five tips for you.

1.) Stay busy and social.  

I'm naturally an introvert, so my first urge when I'm feeling lonely or homesick is to withdraw into my bedroom and hide from the world.  Don't do this.  The busier you are and the more fun you're having, the sooner you will get over your homesickness.

However, be careful not to overwhelm yourself.  Be sure to leave time for studying and for quiet time with the Lord.  Give yourself a couple of hours of study/alone time each day, but make an intentional effort to get involved with the social community at your university. 

If you find yourself sitting in your room feeling alone and sad, get out and do something.  Don't allow yourself to sulk and dwell on the fact that you're away from your family.  You're in college now!  Get involved.

For those of you who will be attending secular universities, make an effort to seek out the Christian community at your university.  Visit Christian organizations and clubs and continue to bring up Christ in your conversations.  Although it's fine to make friends with people who don't believe the same way you do, you'll want to have a core group of Christian friends who will share your values, hold you accountable, and be your foundation at this new place.  Get involved in the Christian community wherever you go.

2.) Keep in touch with your family.

My reaction when my family came to visit in September.
To this day, I Skype, text, and talk on the phone with my family on a daily basis.  When I stay out of touch with them, I feel more homesick.  If you miss your parents, give them a call.  They're probably missing you too.

Just because you're living independently doesn't mean you can't involve your parents in what you're doing.  It's fine to keep them updated on your life in college.  I often call my mom and let her know what I'm doing each day.  She knows who my friends are, the boy I like, my classes and grades... I am in frequent communication with both of my parents, which gives me less reason to feel homesick.

When you miss your friends, arrange a Skype date with them.  Write letters to each other.  I send a letter to my best friend every week and I have for the past seven months.  Receiving letters in the mail is by far the highlight of my day.  Communication with loved ones is a great way to cure homesickness quickly.  If you miss your family, let them know.  Keep in touch.

3.) Proactively make friends.

Don't wait for friends to simply appear in your life.  This isn't high school.  Unless you join a sorority, friends won't be there automatically.  Get out there and make friends.  You be the one to take the initiative.

Make an effort to have a conversation with someone new every single day, whether it's sitting with an unfamiliar face at the cafeteria or starting a conversation with someone on the bus.  Be friendly.  Wear a smile.  Make sure you are approachable.

If you meet someone you'd like to have as your friend, pursue that friendship.  Invite them to have coffee with you, spend afternoons with them, and allow your walls to come down, even if you haven't known this person for very long. The more time you spend with a potential friend, the closer you will become.

I tend to make close friends over a fairly long period of time.  It can take a while for me to open up and share my heart with someone.  What I've found about college is that it brings people closer together faster.  Here, your group of friends is kind of like your family.  They're the ones who know what's going on in your life, who keep you accountable, and who watches your back.  Allow yourself to open up and bond with people, even if you've only known them for a week or two. 

4.) Don't give up when it's hard.

Go into college with the knowledge that it will be a tough transition at first, but that you will get through.  You are being thrust into a situation where you are living independently, where you don't know anyone well, and where you probably have limited communication with your loved ones back home.  That's hard.

Remember that the majority of the freshmen around you are going through the same emotions as you are, even if they don't show it.  The upperclassmen also went through the same thing.  They know what you're going through.  It's normal, and a lot of older students will be ready and willing to help you through the tough times if you ask them for advice.  Look at how many people have gotten over their initial homesickness and are now happy with their independence.

Even if you are feeling extremely lonely and homesick, don't give up.  Don't go home.  Don't settle somewhere else.  Put your faith in the Lord and stay where you are for at least a year.  Trust me on this: You'll make friends.  Your university will start to feel like home.  Just give it a chance.

After the first two weeks of college, I was certain I would transfer to a smaller community college back home, but my mom asked me to wait it out for my freshman year.  Guess what?  Halfway through Christmas Break, I was desperately ready to go back to Aggieland.  The idea of transferring makes me laugh now.  There's no way I would ever want to go to school somewhere else.  

Give your university time before you make the choice to transfer.  Don't give up right away.

Also, don't give up on making friends and finding a church.  Even if you aren't making good friends right at the beginning, don't give up searching for them just because you're frustrated.  Continue to look for a good group of friends.  Keep researching organizations.  Open your heart to the people around you and continue to try, even when you're tired.

In the same way, don't stop going to church just because you can't find "the right one" for you.  Stick with a church that reflects your beliefs and jump into the Christian community in your college town.  Hebrews 10:25 says, "And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another."  Keep attending church, even when it doesn't feel like home.  Your church may be the best way for you to connect with the Body of Christ at your university. 

5.) Don't slack off on your relationship with the Lord.

I hate to admit it, but this happened to me when I first started college.  I was overwhelmed with the stereotypically hectic college schedule, with studying, and with feeling homesick, and I slacked off when it came to keeping in touch with God as well as I should have. 

1 Thessalonians 5:17 asks us to pray without ceasing.  Keep in constant conversation with the Lord.  Even when you're tired and homesick, even when you're busy, take time each day to immerse yourself in God's Word.  Spend more time than usual in prayer with Him because of the new emotions and trials you're experiencing.

It's funny... once I began attending Bible studies because I was craving God's Word even more than I was craving relationships, once I began seeking out a closer relationship with the Lord because I was discovering how I felt fulfilled rather than lonesome when I spent time with Him, my relationship with God began to soar forward in huge leaps and bounds and my homesickness began to disappear entirely.  I feel so much closer to God now than I was six months ago.  It's been an amazing two semesters.

Homesickness doesn't last forever.  It'll be okay.  Trust in God and He will carry you through this.  

If you have any more questions about homesickness or finding your place at your university, don't hesitate to ask.  This is something that is near to my heart because of my personal experience with homesickness.

Also, the last day to submit questions for my College Q&A Day is March 31, so be sure to leave any questions you might have about college.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Finding Sanctuary

Since I was a young child, I have struggled with anxiety.  I've had specific phobias like heights and water, but the most lingering aspect of my struggle is the irrational anxiety.  There is no cause.  It isn't reasonable.  It's just there.  At one moment, I'm feeling comfortable and relaxed; the next, my heart is racing in my chest.  I can't breathe.  I can't focus.  It consumes me.

Panic attacks came to me frequently when I was younger.  I don't experience them often anymore, but they will occasionally still occur, especially if stress has been building in my life over a period of time.

I have yet to meet many people who are open about struggling with anxiety.  In fact, a few years ago, I thought I must be alone in my struggle.  And on the nights when anxiety clamped its inky hold on my mind and heart, I was certain I was alone.

I don't believe that anymore.

1 Corinthians 10:13
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

Every temptation I have struggled with has been common to man.  I am not alone in my anxiety.  You are not alone in your struggles either.  And yes, anxiety is a temptation for me.  When I allow my fear to take hold, I am losing faith in Jesus Christ, even if it is only for a moment.

Recently, I've come to catch familiar glimpses of my struggle with anxiety in the Bible.  King David dealt with what certainly looks and feels like anxiety. 

Psalm 55:4-7
My heart pounds in my chest.
The terror of death assaults me,
and I can't stop shaking.
Oh, that I had wings like a dove;
that I would fly away and rest!
I would fly far away
to the quiet of the wilderness.

If you have ever struggled with anxiety or panic attacks, then you can probably relate in many ways to the passage above.  The terror, the pounding heart, the ache for rest and security.  Psalm 55 is a familiar passage to me.  I know what it's like to feel what David is feeling in this moment.

No matter what your struggles are, know that you are not alone.  Others have dealt with your temptations and have gotten through with the Lord's help.

For those of you who are currently dealing with anxiety or another struggle, I would like to offer you a few Biblical tips that have helped me to break my chains and conquer my fears through Christ.  I hope these passages will encourage you as much as they have me.

Psalm 55:22
Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you.

1.) When you are struggling with the heaviness of your temptation, do not keep the Lord at arm's length.  I know what it's like to be consumed by worry and doubt... and I know how shameful that can feel.  But remember this: Christ did not die because we are flawless.  He cherishes us despite who we are and the mistakes that we make.

Trust in the Lord.  He will guide you.  He will give you reassurance.  He can help you through struggles and temptations, even when you feel like you are drowning.

When you are in your darkest place, give your burdens to the Lord.  He cares.  And even though He already knows your heart, He wants you to open up to Him.  He wants to embrace you, soothe your fears, and give you rest

Matthew 11:28 says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."

The Lord can be a sanctuary for you.  Give your burdens to Him.

James 5:16
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. 

2.) If you are feeling alone in your struggles, turn to a friend who actively seeks out Christ and who will encourage you with prayer and a listening ear.  Although your struggle may fill you with a terrible sense of awkwardness and shame, share it with a friend.  Encouragement, accountability, and prayer are all extremely effective in fighting battles against sin and temptation.

About a month ago, I was struggling with mentally putting myself down.  Everything I said and did wasn't good enough in my eyes.  And thought-by-thought, I broke myself to bits until I was a fragmented shell of my usually confident self.  I was under attack.  I was struggling.  Confused and ashamed, I approached a close friend and confessed what I was doing to myself.  She listened to me with sincerity, she encouraged me without false compliments, she gave me godly counsel, and then she prayed over me.  And she has held me accountable ever since then.

Spending time in the Lord with a friend who was able to hold me accountable in love has brought me enormous encouragement and strength.  And I was able to conquer my struggle much more easily than if I kept silent in my shame and doubt.

Do you have a friend like this in your life?  Does someone hold you accountable?  If you don't have anyone like this, seek them out.  1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up."  Encouragement and accountability are so important.  Make sure you have that in your life.

Proverbs 3:6
Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.

3.) And finally, seek the Lord relentlessly.  Do not only put your faith in Him; seek Him.  Spend time in His Word and in prayer each day.  Luke 11:9 says, "Seek and you will find."  If you spend time actively pursuing Christ and getting to know Him better, He will guide you through your temptations.  He will continue to show you the way with reason and confidence. 

I love Psalm 34:14, which says, "Seek peace and pursue it."  Peace is something I long to have when I'm in the depths of my anxiety.  We are asked to seek peace.  Through accountability, seeking God, and faith in Him, we can achieve peace.  He will guide us through every struggle. 

Hebrews 13:5-6 says, "God has said, 'Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.'  So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper.  I will not be afraid.'"  No matter what you're struggling with today, know that the Lord isn't going to leave you.  He loves you endlessly.

Pursue peace.  Pursue the Lord.  He will guide you.

He cares about you, you know.

Psalm 51:10
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

In a Gray World

My college tips for this week will come on Friday instead of today.

In the meantime, here is a poem I wrote during one of my classes.  I hope you like.

In a gray world, the color was gone.
Sunshine was nowhere to be found.
They trod upon grass as gray as the sky.
Flowers went unseen on the ground.

In this gray world, each was the same:
Gray faces, gray eyes, and gray hair.
Beauty was lost in the ashes and dust,
Unnoticed by the gray, tired stares.

One morning, a young child giggled
And his laugh blew a hole in the sky.
Bright fire emerged in the gray clouds.
Pink, violet: a blazing sunrise.

And jewels appeared in the gardens.
The ocean was rich with its hues.
The rolling green hills, the butterflies...
On this day, the earth was brand new.

Gray shadows no longer consumed them,
Now that they gave gray its place.
Colors shined bright in the littlest of things
And lit up a smile on each face.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A sad and serious announcement for today.

I have a very sad and serious announcement for today.

I don't know if everyone will be able to handle it.  I certainly couldn't.  After discovering the truth of this situation, I couldn't help but break down.  In fact, everyone around me did as well.  It's just... so, so sad.

As of March, 2012...

I am...

...the shortest child in my family.

Yes, even my twelve-year-old brother is taller than me now.

It was a hard thing to accept, but Luke is growing quickly.  And he didn't have much height to beat, anyways.

I mean, I don't know if I've shared this with you all, but I have a mini photo series on Facebook called "I'm too short to reach the mirror at a public place."  So far, there are three parts.

PART I: I'm too short to reach the mirror in the jewelry department at JC Penney.

PART II: I'm too short to reach the mirror in the bathroom at On the Border.

PART III: I'm too short to reach the mirror in the bathroom at a local steakhouse when I went out of town for a vacation.

How tall are you?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

I like it here.

I am officially back from my trip home, friends.  It was a long day of driving and flying, but I made it through alive.  I certainly have some more photos and stories to share (like... hiking, a little photoshoot, and a newspaper article, plus more), but tonight I just want to share a few thoughts I had when I was driving today.

The Texas state flower is the bluebonnet.  This time of year, the Texas countryside is cloaked with pretty blue flowers.  When I was much, much younger, my mom would take me down to the fields of bluebonnets and have me pose for pictures amongst the wildflowers.

It's been a long time since I've returned to take pictures with the bluebonnets.

Blue is my favorite color.  A field of blue flowers is a beautiful sight and it brings back so many good memories. 

I had a stressful time of traveling alone today, I was anticipating a very stressful next couple of weeks ahead of me, and seeing the tranquil scenery unfold before me while I drove through the Texan countryside gave me such a peaceful feeling.

I couldn't help but think to myself: the Lord made that beauty.  He did that.  Wow, He is an amazing God.

Do you think my mother looks like me?  (She's the one holding toddler me in the picture above)

I'm not one for planning my wedding before I'm even engaged (and I don't usually care about the minute details of my wedding, honestly), but after sitting in thought for a few hours while driving past fields of bluebonnets, I think I may want to incorporate that flower into my wedding.  Somehow.

And finally, I'd like to re-share a poem I wrote for Ali a little over two years ago.  I actually wrote the poem in a matter of minutes during Spanish class to show her how easy it can be to write poetry when you think of one simple theme.  However, it deals with blue flowers (the ones I had in mind were Texas bluebonnets), so I think it fits. 

Blue Flowers

She walked through the field of blue flowers,
Barefoot, with her eyes all aglow.
Her pretty black hair shone in the sun,
As she sat and watched the flowers grow.

He sat by the gurgling creek bed,
All tousled hair and freckled cheeks.
Eleven years old; a long, lazy day,
By those flowers, he fell fast asleep.

They met when he was but eighteen,
And she a mere sixteen years old.
They wandered the fields with a rod and a reel,
And they watched all the blue flowers grow.

Three years passed, and they wed in a chapel.
She wore pretty blue flowers in her hair.
They were young, with no cares about them,
And love lingered in the sweet summer air.

He built a snug cabin soon after,
Nestled right in the midst of the flowers,
With a porch out in front, so when babies came,
They could sit out and rock through the hours.

Many years and the children had all gone,
From the cabin and peaceful, old land,
But the two stayed in the field of blue flowers,
Telling stories and holding hands.

Texas is a lovely place to live.  

Blue flowers, gentle countryside, friendly people.

I like it here.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

TODAY is Good!

I am going to confess something today.

I'm exhausted.  I'm worn down.  I'm weary.  I'm tired.

This isn't the norm for me.  I tend to be more on the peppy side rather than weary.  My response to "How are you?" is generally "Wonderful!" and I try my best to be sincere when I use that word.  Being alive, wrapped in God's love, and consumed with His joy is wonderful!  Exhaustion isn't something that gets in my way very often anymore.  See, I'm an insomniac, so I'm used to getting little sleep, but what I feel right now goes beyond that.  I'm emotionally drained. 

Recently, I received some bad news that caused me to break down.  I canceled some plans I had for that day, I sat in my room and placed my books to the side, and I opened the Bible and just sat there in silence, asking the Lord for His peace.

I was hurting, I was sad, and I began to read from Psalm 27, which has lately been one of my favorite psalms.  Here is what stuck out to me on this particular day:

Psalm 27:13
I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  

We tend to live life as if we just have to deal with the awful here and now, and then once we get through all of this muck and filth, we can make it to the good part: heaven.

We will certainly come across trials and painful times while we are here on earth.  That is a part of life.  However, life isn't a terrible place.  Life is beautiful.  And while we are alive on this earth, the Lord is still working.  He is still beautiful.  He still loves us endlessly.

Whatever you are going through right now, know this:

The goodness of the Lord is evident.  You will see His love and glory working in your life, right now, right where you are.

Trust in Him.

God's goodness is not only to come.  It is visible here on this earth.  Today.

I'm tired, yes, but today I challenge myself to open my eyes to God's glory.  To His goodness.  I am so blessed, I am so loved, and I want to be so much more thankful for this wonderful life I have been given than I am now.

And I am excited to say that Spring Break begins tomorrow.  What perfect timing that is!  I can't wait to relax and rest with my family next week.  I appreciate all prayers for my traveling safety tomorrow as I drive three hours on my own and then fly the rest of the way home.  Thanks, friends.

Also, be sure to leave questions for the College Q&A Day coming in a few weeks.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

5 Tips for Picking the Right College

(I am so frustrated.  I spent about an hour writing an intensive post over this topic... and then my internet crashed and deleted the entire thing.  So here is the second draft.)

Over the last week (and I'm so glad about this), I have been receiving several comments and emails from high school students asking questions and sharing concerns about going to college in the next year or few.  Possibly one of the most asked questions I've received so far is, "How do I know for sure I'm choosing the college God wants me to attend?"

I relate to this question very personally.  One of my biggest emotional roller coasters when I was a senior in high school was deciding which university to attend.  I finally came down to deciding between two different schools: a small private Christian university that was relatively close to home and a huge public university located nearly ten hours away from my family.  They were vastly different environments and I wasn't sure which one was right for me.

I stressed and stressed and stressed about which of those two schools was the "one."  I was raised in home school/private Christian school my entire life.  The idea of a big secular university was terrifying.  However, after I visited both schools, I felt like the Lord was drawing me away from the private school.  He had a place for me at the big university: Texas A&M.  After nearly two semesters here, I am very confident that I am at the right university for me.  I'm where God wants me to be.  

If you're struggling to decide on the right school for you, here are a few tips to help you in your decision. 

1.) Is it the right size?

What size of school do you attend right now?  How big is your class?  Most importantly, how much of a change are you willing to undergo?  I was raised in a small and personal school environment... and now I attend a huge school where it is literally impossible to know everyone.  Can you handle a big change?  My sister attends a private Christian university of around 5,000 students; I attend a university with over 50,000 students.  If we swapped places, we would both have to undergo a certain degree of culture shock.  Obviously, our schools are very, very different.

What kind of environment works for you?  I encourage you to visit both big and small universities.  See which environment you prefer (and be sure to keep your options open).  You may be surprised about which size of school works best for you.

2.) Is it the right distance away from home?

I read an article once that said the further away from home a university is, the more likely it is that the student will end up transferring.  Even if you aren't the type to get homesick, being away from your family in a strange and unfamiliar place will be hard.  Choosing a university across the country for your freshman year may be a bad decision.

Talk to your parents about what kind of distance is reasonable and what isn't.  A college four or five hours away might be perfect for you... or you may be fine with purchasing plane tickets every time you need to go home.  Be sure to ask yourself how often you expect to see your family during the year.  If you plan to see your family more often than major holidays, a long-distance college is not for you.  If you have a particularly overbearing and involved family, a school a few hours away (but not too close) may be the perfect distance for you. 

3.) Does it have the right atmosphere?

I strongly encourage you to visit the schools you are considering before you make your decision.  If possible, stay on campus for a couple of days until you get a true feel of what living on the campus is like.  Remember: this is a place where you'll be every single day for possibly four or more years!  It's important that you like the atmosphere.

Every university will have a different "feel" to it.  One of the biggest reasons why I chose Texas A&M was because it was one of the friendliest places I've ever been.  No matter who you are or where you're from, you'll be greeted with a sincere "howdy" from passing students.  Also, the school spirit at my university is huge, which I love.  I wanted to be excited about my school. 

When you visit different colleges, try to picture yourself living and walking around on each campus.  If you can't imagine yourself fitting in there, then it's probably not the place for you.  Some colleges will have a more serious atmosphere than others; some will be jovial.  Be sure to speak with different students who pass you when you visit the school.  They should seem sincerely happy to be attending the school and eager to help a prospective student.

4.) Does it have your major?

It's surprising how many high school students tell me, "I plan to attend this university.  They don't have my major, but I've really wanted to go there for years and years, so I'm just going to settle for a similar major and try to take some classes pointed towards the actual major I want."

No.  Just no.

Even if you've had a certain university in mind for the past ten years, if they don't have your major, then don't go there!  Seriously, you don't want to be hindered in your future career or cheapened out of the right education just because you want to carry the name of your dream school.  There are so many excellent universities in the United States... pick one that will help you with your major, even if it's not the school you originally planned to attend.  

5.) Do you have a peace about it?

Spend time in prayer about this decision.  Don't just say you'll spend time in prayer; don't just intend to spend time in prayer.  Commit to sitting down on a daily basis and asking the Lord to help you pick the school He wants you to attend.  I'm not going to downplay what an important decision this is.  Where you spend the next four years of your life is a big deal.  Don't rely on yourself to make the decision of where you'll go to college.  Spend time daily in prayer and the Word.

Also, be sure to listen.  It's easy to ask and ask and ask God for wisdom and direction and never actually listen to what He's trying to tell you.  His plans may be different than your plans... and that may be hard to accept.  Open your heart and lay out your plans before the Lord.  Allow God to change them.  His plan for you is so much greater than any you will have for yourself.

Let me tell you my story.  I was going to attend a tiny Christian university.  I applied there, I was accepted there, and I even reserved my dorm room on that campus.  That was where I was going to go.  I knew I would be comfortable and happy and content in a cozy Christian environment like that, but somehow, I still did not have a peace about where I was going to go.  When I finally sat down in tears and confusion and told God that He could pick, that I would set aside my reservations and genuinely let Him choose where He wanted me to go to college, He asked me to attend a university about ten times bigger than anywhere I had even considered.

I never, never, never planned to go to school at a place like Texas A&M.  But when I entrusted my future into the Lord's hands, He did what was best for me.  I'm so glad I let Him choose my school.  And I have a peace about this. 

Spend time in prayer, release your dreams and plans into the Lord's hands, and you will end up at the right school.  Don't worry.


And finally, if you are still stressing out, here is something my mom told me when I decided to attend my university (which broke two of the five rules above).  "If you don't like it, you can transfer.  You aren't trapped there for four years.  Try it out for four months and if it isn't working out, leave." 

I know it's hard, but try not to worry about choosing the right school.  Place your fears in the Lord's hands.  It's a big decision, yes, but trust that God is holding you right now... and let Him be in control.  Wherever you go, no matter which school you choose, you can still make an impact for Christ.  You will still make friends.  You can still do great things. 

He's got this.  Don't worry.

Matthew 6:34
So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Stay tuned for next Wednesday's five college tips.  Also, if you are a high school or middle school student and you have any questions whatsoever about college life: dorm life, classes, choosing the right school, maintaining your relationship with God, dating, etc., leave them in the comments below or send me an email.  In a few weeks, I will be having a College Q&A Day.  I will only be answering your questions, so if you don't ask, they may not be answered.

Have a great day, friends.  And remember: don't worry. :)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Have Confidence.

Sisters, today I am writing to you about something I've noticed recently that needs to be confronted.  This habit is something I also fall into if I'm not careful.  It's something most of the girls around me struggle with... and I am going to challenge you to end it.  What is this habit, you ask?  Apologizing unnecessarily.

So often, when I sit down and have a conversation with my sisters in Christ, much of the conversation consists of... apologizing.  Why?  We aren't wronging each other.  We aren't speaking spiteful words.  We aren't being mean.

We're self-conscious.  We're insecure.

"Sorry, I'm kind of dumb sometimes.  Just ignore me when I say stupid things."

"Sorry, I look gross today."

Sound familiar?  Apologizing should not be used to declare our insecurities.  Apologies are meant to right a wrong.  Sister, you do not need to apologize for the way you look.  Don't apologize for your quirks, for your personality, for who God created you to be.  Apologize when you have wronged someone. 

God made you in His image.  Don't apologize for that.

When you apologize unnecessarily:

1.) You lessen the significance of your actual apologies.  

I was told as a child that if I threw around the word "love" loosely, it would lose its significance.  "I love hotdogs.  I love Jesus.  I love summer.  I love this book.  I love my mom.  I love the smell of that candle."  I was told to use "love" when I truly loved something and to use the phrase "I really like" the rest of the time.  

If you apologize unnecessarily, when you actually mess up and need to apologize, your words won't have the same significance to the person you've hurt.  "I'm sorry I'm so ugly.  I'm sorry I'm so dumb.  I'm sorry I hurt your feelings."  Apologize when an apology is actually needed. 

2.) You don't come across as a confident woman of God.

I realize that is harsh, but it needs to be said.  When you put yourself down, you are damaging your witness. 

There have been so many times sisters in Christ have shared their stories with me and spoken about the love of God, yet their conversations have been seriously affected by the insecurities screaming so loudly through their words.  "Sorry, just ignore the way I look right now.  I know my hair is a mess and I look disgusting.  Okay, now I'd like to talk to you about how God loved the world so much that He sent His only Son to die for you and me."  The conversation loses a lot of its impact, doesn't it?

Don't litter your conversation with these meaningless apologies.  Speak with confidence

The person sitting next to you will only feel awkward and perhaps even a little guilty when you put yourself down.  They'll feel the need to say, "No, no, you're not boring me.  No, no, you're not ugly/fat/stupid."  And they shouldn't feel pressured to reassure you about the way you look and act.  Find your confidence in Christ, not in those around you.

3.) You are insulting a child of God.

When you speak words of hate about yourself, you are showing those around you that you hate a child of God... and you are going against the Gospel you are trying to share.

Yes, you are broken and flawed, but you have been renewed in Christ.  God not only made you beautiful on the outside, but He also created you with your special personality, your quirky sense of humor, and your special talents.  Embrace that.  Don't put that down.

Psalm 139:13-14
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
Ask yourself this question with honesty: do you treat yourself as if you were fearfully and wonderfully made?

Ephesians 4:29
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 

Sister, include yourself here.  Do the things you say about yourself build you up or tear you down?  When your friends and peers hear the things you say, are they benefited by your words or are they discouraged?

Have you ever had a conversation with a girl who consistently puts herself down?  It's exhausting, isn't it?  You constantly feel as if you must build her up, and by the end of the meeting, you usually feel discouraged and bad.  It's not a good feeling to be around someone who is incredibly insecure and does not like herself.

While you tell those around you that they are loved by the Lord, show them that you mean what you say.  Treat yourself with love too.

This week, I challenge you to refrain from putting yourself down.  Apologize as a way to heal what has been broken, not to betray your insecurities.  I challenge you to strive to live in confidence, in joy, and in love with the knowledge of what the Lord has done in your life. 

By treating yourself with love and with grace, you will show others the confidence one can have when living in God's crazy love.

And that, sister, is beautiful.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

His Hand

This is a poem I wrote during the Impact staff retreat a week ago.  It's been a while since I've shared a poem with you all, so I hope you like it. 

His Hand
In the palm of His hand,
I sit and wait.
I don't know what's to come.
In the palm of His hand,
I'm wrapped in grace.
In Him, I am undone.
In the palm of His hand,
I'm cherished, loved,
Precious. He made me.
In the palm of His hand,
He is enough.
In Him, I learn to see.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Are Christians Perfect?

After I posted the story about Brother Jed and the effect he had on my college campus, I received some comments and emails about how my readers were incredulous that the man did not believe he had sinned in decades and about how they were praying for those he had turned away from the Gospel with his judgment.

A few days later, I began to receive several comments in Jed's favor, stating that he was a prophet and so on.  I figured these comments must have come from followers of Brother Jed, so I looked him up online and sure enough, he linked to my blog from his Facebook page.  Here is the link to his page on Facebook; if you scroll down to February 17, you can read what he wrote and you can also read the debates taking place in the comments after his statuses about my blog.  Do your research.  Decide what you believe.  One of the comments stated, "Sometimes I wonder if Emily is living in the real world!"

What do you think?  Am I living in the real world or am I lost in deception?

Today I'd like to address why I believe that even as Christians, we will still stumble.  Should we strive to live a life without sin?  Certainly.  Is it possible to live entirely without sin before God transforms our weak mortal bodies into glorious heavenly bodies (Philippians 3:21)?  I don't believe so.

1 Corinthians 15:40, 42-44
There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another... So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;  it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

We are broken.  We are clay.  We are sinful.  And while we should strive to glorify Christ with everything we think, say, and do, the reason we must rely on His grace is because we are not perfect.

And to tell a new believer or an unbeliever that in order to be a Christian, they must be perfect, this is a terrible stumbling block for them, and it's also missing the point of the Gospel.

Being a Christian is not about being perfect.  Acts 2:21 says, "And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."  Everyone.  The passage does not say "everyone who is perfect will be saved."  Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord.  We are broken and flawed and miserable and hateful.  But if we call on the name of the Lord, He will forgive us.  His love is that big and His grace is that powerful.

What else does the Bible say about salvation?  Acts 16:31 says, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved."  Romans 10:9 says, "If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."  Nothing here talks about works or perfection.  Faith in Jesus Christ is what gives us salvation. 

Here are a few verses that discuss sin and repentance. 

1 John 1:8-10
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. 
That's pretty self-explanatory.  Romans 5:20 says, "But where sin increased, grace increased all the more."  That certainly doesn't mean we should eagerly go on sinning.  No, Christ released us from the chains of our sins.  We aren't a slave to that.  However, to deny the fact that we are sinful beings and to deny that we continuously wage a war against our sins lessens the impact of what He has done for us.

1 Timothy 1:14-16
The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 
May I mention the fact that Paul (who was the one writing in the passage above) does not say, "of whom I was the worst."  Rather, he said, "of whom I am the worst."  Present tense. 
Ephesians 2:8-9
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
James 5:16
Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

James was written to Christians.  At the end of this book, we are told to confess our sins to each other and pray for each other.  This is acknowledging that followers of Christ sin, that we should not hide that fact, and that we should continually strive to turn from it.

I assume by way of argument, some readers will send me passages of the Bible like Romans 6:12 and 14 that say, "Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace."  Another translation says, "Do not let sin reign in your mortal body."

We are no longer slaves to sin.  We no longer have to be controlled by that.  However, this passage isn't saying, "If you give into sin, you're not a Christian."  It also doesn't say, "As a Christian, you are expected to never sin again."  This says, "Do not let sin control the way you live."  Are you struggling with addiction to pornography or gossip or lying?  You're not a slave to that.  You can conquer that through Christ.  You do not have to be controlled by that.  It's not your king any longer; it doesn't reign in you.  God's grace has given you freedom.

Does that mean you'll never mess up again?  No!  Instead, take this passage as a message of encouragement.  His grace frees you.  You can conquer these chains. 

We are all struggling with sins and temptations right now; we are all waging a spiritual war.  Temptation is all around us and there will be times we will fall into that.  However, if we continue to confess these struggles and sins to each other and pray for each other and provide accountability to each other, we will continue to grow more and more like Him.

When you stumble and fall, remember: Christ died for your sins.  You are forgiven.  You are loved.  His grace is overwhelming and beautiful. 

I know the responses I receive will be mixed.  You are welcome to do your own research and disagree with me; you are welcome to share what you believe in the comments below.  However, I ask that in your responses to what I have to say, to what Jed has to say, and to what each other has to say, that you will be respectful, use Biblical reasoning, and do not condemn each other.

If your comments become too hateful, I will delete them.  Be kind.

2 Timothy 2:24
A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people.