Smiles & Whispers {A Tribute to Brothers}

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October 2nd is one of those dates for me. It means less to nothing to your average Joe, but to me, it’s quite significant. My Grandma Gerry passed away 9 years ago this day from Lou Gherig’s Disease. She left a beautiful legacy through the person she was in Christ and her amazing testimony.

Grandma Gerry and I have a lot more in common than I ever realized. We both lost our younger brothers in very tragic and unexpected means. She lost her younger brother, Jim, to the collision of the USS Frank E. Evans destroyer and the HMAS Melbourne during the Vietnam War. I lost my brother to a horrible decision to end his own life. We both experienced deep grief, pain, and depression. We both loved deeply and lost deeply.

Another thing we have in common is our written expression of grief. My Grandma wrote a beautiful poem to her brother Jim after he had died, and I did the same in light of losing my own brother. Two very different generations. Two very different losses. Two very different poems. But two very similar expressions of love and loss. As a tribute to my Grandma Gerry, I’d like to share our poems…in memory of our love for Uncle Jim and Jeremy…three people now reunited in their Heavenly Home.

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“A Precious Smile”

Geraldine G. Hemphill

Time passes, so also do we. Many leave memories to cherish. Some leave footsteps to follow. A few will treasures to spend. Only one left a smile so big and wide, So genuine, so dear.

It belonged to my brother, Jim. Day never dawns, night never falls. But loving thought of him Dwells in my heart, keeping him near. Birds still sing, people still work and play. Life goes on; memories will stay, But Jim is gone and I’m still here. Heaven claimed a son June third While I lost a brother instead. Why am I yet traveling through life’s pain When the journey here has ended in peace for Jim? God must have more plans for me. I’m glad Jim’s smile remains To give me courage to face each day.

Today marks a birthday That would have been if God had willed. ‘Tis no use to wonder “why” or “what if…” Far wiser is God and happier is Jim Than if I decreed another year for him.

I know Jim is smiling now Free from worry, minus any tear. Eagerly awaiting the time To show me around when I appear.

I wish I knew his message for me. I feel it might be this reminder. “Take no thought for the morrow…” I must wear Jim’s smile and share his trust in God; To make my short time here Memorable to others and glorifying to God; Like Jim’s life on earth and now in eternity.

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“Love in a Whisper”

Kaitlyn B. Learish

I whisper ‘hello’ as I wake in the morning. I breathe ‘see you later’ when the night is drawing.

You stand right beside me as I go through the day. You nudge me ahead when I must choose my way.

Your image graces my mind, your smile so dear. But when I think of your pain, from my eye falls a tear.

Still, you hold your head high, no fear overtakes. To say I don’t miss you, is a sorrowful mistake.

I’ll long yet again of things that once were,

And pray that you hear my lone, loving whisper.

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The Name’s Will. God’s Will.

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Another summer has come and gone (cue the tears) and I am officially in my last semester of undergrad (cue the tears again because I love college). Wow. Time is flying past and I feel as if I am hanging on for dear life at the tail end. With my adult future looming in the not-so-far-off distance, I am struck with the realization that my future is chock-full of unknowns. And I am terrified. Here is a little glimpse into my thoughts recently:

“Ok. Clinicals are coming up eventually….WAIT. CLINICALS START IN A WEEK AND A HALF. HOLY CRAP. WHAT AM I DOING.”

“Good thing I’ve been working on Grad School applications all summer, because at least I can control that sorta. Except for the fact that I am now at their mercy in choosing me.”

“Where the heck will I be living next year? Where will I be attending? How am I going to adjust to a brand-spanking new school? I don’t WANT to adjust. I like it here.”

“I’m graduating early. Where am I going to work?”

“I want to get married and start a family and have a good job in a few years…how the heck is all that going to work out?”

You see, I am in a little bit of a pickle. I have a lot in my upcoming future to trust God with and if you know me at all…I don’t like it.

I don’t like to trust. I like to plan. I like to know. I like to control. But right now…none of those things are in the cards. My future is entirely up to God and that is really difficult for me to grasp and be okay with. I know in my heart that He has provided over and over and over again, so trusting Him should be a no-brainer, right? Wrong. My mind is full of doubts, worries, questions, and fear. What is God’s will in all of this? What does He have planned for me down the road?

Sigh.

Rewind to last week. I was sitting on my front porch, reading through my devotions and trying to decide what verses I wanted to work on memorizing next. I was flipping absentmindedly through the NT when I stumbled across some profound stuff in 1 Thessalonians.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. {vs. 16-18 in chapter 5}

Hold up.

The Bible just stated God’s will for me. Haven’t I been searching and wondering about this for as long as my little reborn self has been around???

According to the apostle Paul, ordained by God as His “chosen instrument” {Acts 9:15}, God’s will for our lives is really quite simple: Rejoice. Pray. Be Thankful. And not just doing those three things every once in awhile, but doing them continually. Now, those three commands are not exactly a mapped-out presentation of the next few decades of my life. Those three commands are the roadmap to help me navigate the next few decades of my life. They are the way in which I will be able to withstand all the unknowns, doubts, and questions. They are not the end. They are the means.

When I rejoice always, I will not have time to worry about what I can’t control.

When I pray without ceasing, I will be trusting and asking for wisdom about following the pre-determined path that God has worked out for me.

When I give thanks in all circumstances, I learn to celebrate in the sweet times and grow in the bitter times.

I’m in awe of the simple extravagance of our Creator. How He takes a thing so vast (such as our futures) and whittles it down to a little idea. If we but rejoice, pray, and be thankful…we fulfill His will for our lives as it plays out. Our job is not to worry over what we can’t control. Our job is to obey His commands and watch His beautiful plan unfurl.

Wow. Thank you, Lord.

 

 

The Pursuit of Beauty

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Here’s a little thought: pursue beauty.

And no, I don’t mean pursuing it down the isles at Sephora.

Pursue real, long-lasting, pure beauty.

On Sunday, the fam and I piled in our Chevy truck and headed out of town aways to seek out the Mountain Laurel. Father’s Day time is usually the peak of its blooming and by gosh, we were gonna see it in all its glory. In the hills of Pennsylvania, the Laurel explodes. Being the state flower, it’s illegal to pick, therefore flourishing. We drove along the state route, seeing it from a distance on the hillside, but that beauty just wasn’t quite enough for us.

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Instead, we detoured off the main road, and drove into the woods, in search of more of these blossoms. We drove and drove, straying farther and farther from the road we knew well. We spent quite some time on unfamiliar backroads, driving far into the forest with just a hope of seeing more Laurel. And we hit the jackpot.

It looked like God sprinkled a layer of cotton on the forest floor. The snow of sweet summertime. Beauty everywhere you looked.

Sometimes, it takes going off the beaten path to find what we are looking for. It takes driving out of our comfort zone, into unfamiliar territory. The search for beauty may involve potholes that seem to jar your spleen, deserted paths that few drive along, and little sunshine along the way. However, through perseverance and hope of what is to come, you may just find yourself a little Mountain Laurel. The journey is never easy, I’ll tell ya that.  You know, the wait for Mountain Laurel is a little like the wait for Heaven. The journey there, grounded in faith and hope, is not an easy one. But our patience will be rewarded with the beauty.

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. {Romans 8:18-21}

Just a thought for your day…

Current Pain & Future Glory {The Sovereignty of God}

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I’ve come to a few possibly naive conclusions in my own 20-something-year-old-mind, as of late. Reflections on the past several years, an “Illumination of the Past” as Sheldon Vanauken calls it, has led to me to conclusions about my faith and everyday life. I am only human though, with limited understanding, especially in comparison to an Almighty Creator God. However, I’d like to think that my understanding is just a mere sliver of understanding that He intends for me to have…not fully completed until I reach the Pearly Gates.

Thinking about God’s Sovereignty (supreme power and authority, as my dictionary tells me) is mind-boggling, for lack of a better word. I have never really thought about it until the past few years, and even after some crazy life experiences, I feel as though I know less than when I first started contemplating it. However, contemplation is necessary for the continuation of faith. It’s part of the “spiritual milk”, as Paul puts it, that we require for our growth. There are limits, obviously, to this understanding, but diving into God’s Word and living life has really given me a taste and small glimpse of His Sovereignty and what that means for my life. Allow me to explain.

Life has thrown me many curveballs and I have let them pass by without even swinging. That’s how out-of-the-blue they were. I secretly struggled with depression for a few years, my grandma died of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, I experienced minor heartbreak, my brother killed himself, and I have had several difficult semesters of college, to just name a few. Curveballs. I’m telling you. With all of those happening, how could I possibly be even slightly ok with the notion of a Sovereign God?? How could One so loving and good do this to me?

That’s difficult to answer. And I’ve come to the realization that I will never fully know that answer. I see numerous examples of people in the same boat as me, especially in scripture. Isaiah foresaw the destruction of his nation & people. Job’s family was killed and his livelihood taken away. David was hunted like an animal. Joseph? Thrown in prison for doing the right thing. There are plenty more. Yet, even throughout their numerous struggles and life threatening situations, they praised God. They didn’t just acknowledge His presence. They praised Him. I love the Psalms, especially 139. Part of it goes something like this…

[1] O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me…[5] You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head… [13] You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. [14] Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. [15] You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. [16] You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

First of all, God examined my heart and knew how sinful and imperfect it is, yet He still chose to make me, follow me, and bless me. Second, He recorded every single day of my life in His book. He knows all and meticulously planned it all. He knew every single day that I struggled to get out of bed. He recorded the day my grandma left this earth. He planned out the event of my brother’s passing and all the days following. David recognized God’s hand in everyday of his life too. His murderous, adulterous, running-for-his-life days. And yet he praised God’s goodness, faithfulness, and essentially, His Sovereignty. David praised because He trusted the end result…not because he liked the process.

“Guidance, like all God’s acts of blessing under the covenant of grace, is a sovereign act. Not merely does God will to guide us in the sense of showing us his way, that we may tread it; he wills also to guide us in the more fundamental sense of ensuring that, whatever happens, whatever mistakes we may make, we shall come safely home. Slippings and strayings there will be, no doubt, but the everlasting arms are beneath us; we shall be caught, rescued, restored. This is God’s promise; this is how good he is.” {JI Packer}

The core of understanding a glimmer of God’s Sovereignty comes down to trust. David really had no logical reason to trust God, but he trusted God’s plan from beginning to end, whatever means were involved. That was reason enough. And for Christians, trust it what we are called to do. Without trust, Sovereignty makes zero sense. Proverbs says we are to trust in the Lord with all of our heart and to not lean on our own understanding (hint, hint, because God’s is best!). It also says

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. {16:9}

We have the freedom of choice. Because God is loving, He did not make us robots or puppets. HOWEVER, He does know our choices, because He knows every moment (remember Psalm 139?). In Him, all things hold together (Colossians 1:17). Everything in Heaven and earth is His (1 Chronicles 29:11). He has numbered our days (Job 14:5). Yet…He will only come if we but trust and welcome Him.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with Me. {Revelation 3:20}

This is always tough to swallow. How could God know everything and plan everything, yet still allow us to choose? After all, He allowed Adam and Eve the choice to disobey or obey, but He already knew and planned for their disobedience. It’s tough. I know. I struggle to grasp this concept. Especially with those curveballs I talked about earlier. Trust. That’s our means to the end. What I do believe I understand is this: God has my life planned out (which is very comforting, actually). Check √. He allows me to choose obedience or disobedience all throughout my lifetime. Check √. Those choices have consequences, good or bad. Check √. He uses those good and bad consequences in His plan, because He “examined my heart and knows everything about me”. Check √. That’s the key. God’s plan is perfect for us, but He uses our choices, our mistakes, our downfalls,  and our moments of righteousness. Psalm 139 tells me that He knew me even before I was born. He knew that I was a sinful being who would make sinful decisions right from the moment I took my first breath. Yet, He uses us. God knows our imperfections yet He still uses us for His good, perfect plan. That is essential to remember amidst the difficulties of grasping His Sovereignty. He can allow horrific things to happen in our lives, He can throw those curveballs, and we can make horrible decisions, but because He also knows our innate, sinful nature and loves us anyway, He decides to use us. That is a perfect demonstration of His power and authority. Why make us if He didn’t want to use us?

This has been an amazing comfort to me, especially in light of losing my brother. I know God knew his sinfulness as a human. I know God allowed Jeremy to choose eternal life (which he did!!!). I know God also allowed him to make choices in all other areas of life. And I also know that God knew every single one of those choices, because He records them, and that He is using those choices…even if they have resulted in heart-wrenching consequences. God is still Sovereign even when we may despise the means. God allowed this trial to happen, but He is using it for SO MUCH GOOD and for His Glory. Friends and family have come to accept Christ as their personal Savior and are walking with Him. A Church is being planted. Our personal faith is being strengthened. Praise God! It still may not make sense for me to find joy in the midst of this, but I do. I choose to. I absolutely trust God’s authority and His plan for my life. I may not always like the way He does and uses things, but in the end, the result will be incredible. Beyond my belief.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing. {2 Timothy 4:7-9}

Proving His Goodness

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{Scott Erickson}

So here’s the thing. I know I haven’t written in forever….at least it seems that way to me. And I’ll tell ya why: that muddled season I was going through awhile back? Yeah, it lasted longer than I wanted it to. The busyness of the semester kinda caught up with me as well and life just continued to happen. But I am here to say (thankfully) that God is teaching me much right now and is making life seem far less muddled.

A lot has happened these past few weeks. A friendship is being mended. Decisions about my future are being made. A relationship is growing. And God is continuing to prove His goodness. Over. And over. And over.

You see, sometimes, my heart makes me feel things that I know are untrue in my mind, yet I believe them anyway. Sometimes, feelings start to creep up that make me fear my Lord. They try to tell me that He isn’t good. That He couldn’t possibly love someone who messes up constantly like me. That He doesn’t have everything under control. That He doesn’t have my best intentions in mind. That He is out to get me. Sometimes, those feelings really take over. The past few weeks I really felt that. I felt as if nothing was going right and I could do nothing right.

But then reality kinda punched me in the face. Pull yourself together, KaitlynWhen has God ever abandoned you? When?

That’s right. Never.

I’m sure David, Peter, Paul, Martha, Joseph, and many others felt the same as I do. They defined themselves by their mistakes. Their seeming failures. But did the Lord ever abandon them either? NO! He deeply loved the murderer, the liar, the workaholic, the arrogant teenager… despite their flaws. Did God allow numerous trials in their lives to prove, test, and refine their life? Of course. Did these individuals feel the fear and the doubt that you and I face everyday? Of course. But that doesn’t change the heart of Who God is. He is greater than our fears. Greater than our doubts. He is a loving Father Who may discipline and sharpen His children, but He does it out of the greatest love imaginable. He always has our best interests at heart.

Even Job cried in His pain,

“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” {Job 2:10}

A very afflicted man knew this very truth.

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” {1 Peter 1:7}

And this.

“Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” {Matthew 7:9-11}

And this.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” {Romans 3:23-24}

As a friend once told me, “God is not out to get you.” He may refine you, but He does it out of the purest love. All the things I worried and stewed over, He took care of. He helped heal my bitterness. He humbled me. He even took care of the nitty gritty details of clinic placements, summer jobs, and rooming situations. He’s got it. He loves me (and you), always has my best intentions in mind, will forgive me in a heartbeat, and will remind me of His control in all situations.

 

 

Muddled Seasons

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I’m sitting alone in my apartment this morning in a very confused state. A lot has happened in the past week or two (the past semester, really, but I’ll narrow it down) that I’m honestly just struggling to make sense of. I just listened to two sermons: one by an amazing author named Levi Lusko, a pastor in Montana, and the other by an amazing Dad that I get to claim as mine. Levi taught through chapter 30 of Proverbs about seasons: understanding them, diagnosing them, preparing for them, and celebrating them. The whole time I just sat and stewed.

What kind of season am I in right now???

My dad spoke about pride and humility, using Proverbs and James as references. Enjoying life versus evaluating life. Learning to live a humble life in expectation of how God can use us and our trials.

How am I lacking humility right now???

I feel fairly lost, especially when looking at my life through the lenses of these two messages. I am in a very muddled season where friendships are changing, relationships are growing, time seems to be speeding up, and life is handing me so many lemons that I’m up to my eyeballs in them. I really don’t know what kind of season I am in or what I’m supposed to be learning. For example, I just went on a service trip this past week that I really had no expectations for. I felt excited for the unknown (for once) and was ready for God to teach me and use me. But as it turns out, I was disappointed. The expectations that I didn’t even have were dashed. I was terribly homesick and struggled the entire week I was there. I felt as if God was teaching my entire group these amazing lessons and I was sitting in the corner, feebly looking around and wondering, “Okay God. When are you going to teach me something?” There were a few times I enjoyed, but overall, I was miserable and felt like a waste of breathing room. I didn’t want to be there and was more frustrated than I realized.

As I’m writing, though, maybe learning humility is the season I am in. Maybe that explains the apparent muddled mess my life is in.

Maybe God was teaching me humility through my trip by being silent. I expected God to be shouting at me the whole time, but maybe His silence was to remind me to rely on Him through those frustrating times and dashed hopes. Maybe God is teaching me humility in my friendships and relationships. Maybe He is teaching me humility as a student by reminding me that I am not infinite and cannot be in charge of the path of my future. Come to think of it, my Dad just spoke some similar words to me the other night as I choked out my frustrations over the phone.

“The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” {Proverbs 16:9}

Of course I have plans! I love planning! I have plans for my friendships, relationships, schooling, career, and I had plans for that trip. BUT THE LORD. Those ever-important words. But the LORD establishes my steps. If that is not a humbling verse, I don’t know what is.

Guys, oftentimes when I write these blogs, I write them for myself. Yeah, that may seem a little bit selfish, but I write about what I struggle with, what I fear, and what I need to learn from my Heavenly Father. I didn’t have an answer when I started writing up there. I still don’t have a clear-cut answer. BUT THE LORD does. If He is teaching me to be humble, then so be it. If He is teaching me to trust, then so be it. If He is teaching me to celebrate my muddled, confusing, frustrating seasons, then so be it. I’ll praise Him anyway.

The Right Kind of Love

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Valentine’s Day is almost upon us and I’m preparing my blog a few days early to hopefully avoid being in the midst of the numerous posts of “Ohhhhh my significant other is the best thing in the whole wide world” or “Ohhhhh woe is me, I’m as single as can be“. Blah blah blah. Both can be annoying. On days like Valentine’s, or on just any typical day when contemplating relationships, we often don’t think of love in the correct way. I wrote all about my opinions and struggles with this in The Wrong Kind of Love. (Shameless plug: if you haven’t read that post, you should click on the link and go read that first). Even just two years ago, my perception of love was completely screwed up. In my current stage of life, it is still screwed up. I am a sinner, after all. My actions and thoughts of love will, unfortunately, always be tainted. However, that doesn’t mean that I cannot do things correctly sometimes, learn from my past mistakes, or be taught about love from the Relentless Lover, Himself. So here’s to a post about the right kind of love: love that I have learned about through new experiences, teaching, and ultimately, Christ’s perfect example.

When discussing this topic with my boyfriend, we talked a lot about the dynamics of our relationship…what works well for us, what we needed to improve on together or individually, and biblical principles of relationships. We decided (in our mere human views of a Divinely-created thing), that the right kind of love should involve communication, respect, growth, and service. In our relationship, in the times where we have felt the strongest and have seen flourishing, is when these four aspects are being applied to our friendship. Note: it’s hard to do well in all of these areas, let alone all at once. Relationships are definitely no walk in the park. They take constant work. Also, note: this is not some magic formula…not a “do this and everything will be better”. Once again, relationships take work…but without the Lord in the picture, the dynamics are much different.

Communication. It should be constant. Not the clingy, mushy communication of an immature, needy couple, but real nitty-gritty communication. You talk about the hard stuff. You become vulnerable with each other, sharing your struggles and your downfalls. You use gracious words {Proverbs 16:24}, speech that is uplifting and seasoned with salt {Colossians 4:6}, and most importantly, you be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry {James 1:19}.

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

Fun fact: this doesn’t just go for dating relationships. Though my boyfriend and I have had numerous times to practice the God-honoring communication principles, loving communication is used in families and friendships as well. He and I have had to learn the art of humble communication. This means, genuinely apologizing and confessing to one another AND genuinely forgiving one another. We are far from perfect. We mess up all the time. We frustrate each other, hold back our feelings, or just plain mess up…but time and time again, we have recognized our mistakes, humbly apologized to the other, and have forgiven. It’s rough at the time, but to be forgiven and to be free of your downfalls is the best feeling.

Respect. This can be tricky…especially in guy-and-girl dynamics. Respect can look a little bit different and definitely be difficult. For my boyfriend and I, respect has been more about the good of our relationship and respect for the Lord than anything. First of all, we respect our relationship and the enjoyment of it by not obsessing. We are mindful and contemplative of the future in a practical way, but we don’t worry and obsess over it. We’d like to get married someday, IF that is what God has in mind. So for now, we date with intention as we look forward to that day, but are respectful of God’s plans as well. Now comes the uncomfortable part that not many like to acknowledge nor agree with. We are respectful of each other’s bodies and boundaries. We talked about boundaries on our second date. And it wasn’t a once-and-done thing. We still talk about boundaries, a year and some odd weeks later. We keep each other accountable, even if it is difficult. We know that God intended sex to be for the pleasure, enjoyment, and fulfillment of a man and woman in the confines of marriage {Matthew 19:4-6}. Yeah, it’s definitely hard. We are human. But we are still respectful of God’s intentions for bodies and boundaries.

Growth. Relationships should constantly be growing. My boyfriend and I have recognized growth in sharing and praying, more than anything. We share just about everything. Thoughts, ideas, time, sorrows, joy. (Some people may think we share a little too much time, but honestly, I don’t let it bother me too much. It’s a part of growing. Now, there’s definitely a limit, but that’s another can of worms). We also make it a point to pray, both for and with each other. I’ll tell ya, that is also difficult. My prayer life can be pretty crappy, pretty often. But those times when I am in communication with my Heavenly Father and am able to pray for my man, I feel much closer to both of them. One of my favorite memories was a really difficult one, and personal, so I won’t share details. Basically, we had a very long, difficult, and tear-filled discussion. It was filled with confession, forgiveness, and sharing. But after this conversation came to a close, we prayed together. That was the sweetest time, where the Lord drew us so close together as we came before Him with our thoughts. You grow closer to your significant other when you grow closer to the Lord. Plain and simple.

“Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor…and if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” {Ecclesiastes 4:9, 12}

Service. This is the big one. Not that the others weren’t hugely important, but THIS. Hear me out. Out-serve. That is our motto, if you will. The motto that I wish I remembered waaaayyy more often than I do 😦 Jesus set the best example for this.

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve others and to give His life as a ransom for many.” {Matthew 20:28}

The message is clear. We are not to expect the service of others, but we should be the ones jumping at the chance to put someone else first…especially our significant other. Out-serving someone you love is one of the best ways to show your love towards them. That Agape-love that Jesus showed us? Yeah, that came from serving us by DYING in our place. Wow. Ways to out-serve each other? Compromise. Little-stuff lookout. When you compromise, you should be giving up some of your own wants and allowing more of the other’s to be involved in your decision. Look out for the little things…they are often the most loving. My boyfriend knows that I LOVE reading/writing…i.e. handwritten notes. He takes just a teeny bit of time out of his day to jot a little note on some paper to put in my mailbox a few times a week. It probably takes him less than 5 minutes, but I treasure those little notes! We try to look for the little things that remind the other, “Hey. I noticed that makes you happy, so I’m going to go out of my way and make you happy.”

“Love is not passion. It is the pulse of sacrifice. There are no standing lovers. The only way to love is to lay down. Lay down plans. Lay down agendas. Lay down self. Love is always laying down. Love lets go of its plans to hold on to a person.”

You see, the right kind of love is involved. It’s vulnerable. It’s messy. It’s difficult. But it is so worth it. Christ is the ultimate example and image of love, and the only one we should be following. Therefore, in our relationships, we should be living to be a reflection of that kind of love while yet recognizing our imperfection. I am so very thankful for the lessons God has taught me through this relationship and I pray that this blog post can be an encouragement and nudge for you as well. ❤

Imago Dei

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Hey y’all. So this post is going to be a tad bit different. I’m spending a few days with my longtime best friend before we both head back to our respective colleges, and we have decided to do a joint blog post about self-image. Hannah and I have different experiences and backgrounds when it comes to body image, self-worth, and all that jazz, so we thought it would be cool to write together and share our experiences and how God is working in us. This may be a bit more geared towards our fellow ladies, but guys are most certainly welcome too as they aren’t above struggling with self-worth as well. So sit back and enjoy and we both pray that we can be an encouragement through our testimonies.

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So, I, Kaitlyn, will be very frank. I did not care about my appearance much at all before puberty (and even a year or so after). During those early preteen and teenage years, I was all about t-shirts, hoodies, blue jeans, sneakers, and wild hair. I didn’t wear makeup until I was in 10th grade and hated clothes shopping with a burning passion. I was a big fan of ponytails and buns and didn’t really care to take care of my hair much (a HUGE mistake for those of you who know what my hair looks like…). Anyway, when some switch got turned on out of the blue and I actually started caring about my appearance, it turned into a slight obsession as self-image often does for teenagers. I agonized over every pimple and blemish, I stared at myself in the mirror for so very long to determine if my outfit would be acceptable, and I constantly worried about what others thought about me. I was never a popular kid. I was shy, a bit socially-awkward, and never wanting to stand out in the crowd. However, I wanted people to like me…especially guys. And I equated looks, attention, and relationships all into one massive, dangerous category. So many people told me I was beautiful, but I laughed them off. Yeah rightHow can you call “this” beautiful?

As the years went on throughout high school and even into my early college career, I obsessed over how all of these categories related. I found plenty of things about myself to hate, ignoring the parts of myself that I actually kinda liked. I hated my thighs and the lack of a gap between them as a lot of the “skinny girls” had. I hated how pale I was all year long. I hated my curves and how disproportionate they made me feel. I hated that I gained weight after high school graduation (even though it really wasn’t that much). I hated the lack of control I had over my uber-curly hair. I hated having a more plain-Jane face than other girls my age. I hated myself, honestly. I focused on every negative thing I could find about myself. Then, when I started relating my lack of attention from the opposite sex with my view of myself, I started to have an extremely poor perspective of my body and my value as a woman. I figured all the things that I hated about myself were true. Why would a guy want to date me? No one wants a disproportionate, pale-skinned, frizzy-haired, and curvy girl. It was rough. Coupled with many other factors, my self-image was absolutely rotten up until the end of my freshman year of college.

Then, that summer, I gained some really neat perspectives. I reread a book titled Spoken For by Alyssa Bethke and Robin Jones Gunn (12/10 recommend). This book talked about our value and how it should be found in Christ, first and foremost. It reminds its readers of how God created each and every one of us in His image (Imago Dei), how He doesn’t make mistakes, and that God’s Word is likened to a love story to us. God’s love for me and value of me does not depend on how I see myself or how others see me. It is unconditional, and He looks at my heart anyhow…not my outward appearance!

“When Jesus died on the cross, He called out to you– you might say He proposed to you– saying, ‘I love you. I want to be with you forever. I’m taking your sin, your judgement, your shame and guilt, the wrath that you deserve to die for, and I’m taking it upon myself. I’m exchanging your clothes of wickedness for my robe of righteousness. Here, you are clothed with a royal gown. I want you. Won’t you be mine?’ You are wanted. You are pursued. You are loved. You have been called. You are of great value. You are a peculiar treasure. You are set free. You are covered. You are promised. You are spoken for.”

It was like a lightbulb turned on. That summer, I didn’t have a crush on a guy and I know God did that for a reason. He knew I needed to entirely focus on Him in order to learn how valued I truly am, rather than placing my value in the hands of others. Since that summer, I have been slowly gaining the proper body-image perspective. Instead of finding everything that is wrong, I have been learning to be thankful and positive about what I have…and learning to take care of it all! Instead of hating my thighs and my weight, I’ve learned that exercise and eating healthy are so important and being beautiful is not equated with any specific scale reading. I’ve learned that curly hair is super great and I have to take care of it in order to love it! I’ve learned that guys like various body types and just because I may not have been crazy about how I looked doesn’t mean everyone else was (my boyfriend has reminded me of that one!). I’ve learned that Snow White was the fairest of them all (my brother told me that once) and it’s better to take care of my china-white skin than get skin cancer from some sort of tanning bed or crisping in the sun all day. I’ve learned that everyone and their brother (and sister) gets acne. You just gotta suck it up and continuously clean your skin. I’ve learned over all that I am not junk. Granted, it is a long learning process. There are still days when I feel upset with one thing or another in relation to my looks. However, I was created in God’s very image, and to see myself as beautiful is one way that I can praise and thank Him. Hating my looks is like going up to a great artist and saying, “You know what? Your work here is pretty crappy. Why did you ever make that in the first place?” We are image-bearers. To shame ourselves is to shame God’s work, and essentially, His image.

How dare we call ourselves worthless when He made us priceless. 

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Wearing Osh Kosh Overalls with two long braids falling down my back, I’m eight years old and love being a kid. I’m at a family gathering, I’m at a church event, I’m at parade, take your pick. A well-meaning, good intentioned adult looks at me with wide eyes or a grin,

“Look at you, you’re so skinny!”

“Goodness, get some meat on those bones kid.”

Almost every time I sat on someone’s lap, “You have such a bony butt”

“Skinny-mini!”

“Look at those little arms”

And my personal favorite, “Why don’t you eat a hamburger once in a while?”

I heard all of these countless times growing up. I still avoid sitting even on a friend’s lap around a campfire because I don’t care for a reminder. I’ve always been thin, it’s natural. It’s not because I don’t eat – trust me, food is a glorious gift from God that I enjoy taking full advantage of. It’s because I was “blessed” with a high metabolism. Growing up, however, I didn’t know that. I use quotations around “blessed” because I still sometimes have a hard time understanding how it’s a blessing when it hardly feels like one. As a child who didn’t care about appearance, all I knew was that adults, though with good intentions, would often make comments about how skinny I was and that I should start eating, but I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand what was wrong with me. I couldn’t do anything about it, I was born that way, so why were they acting like I should do something to change it? I knew God had made me exactly the way He wanted me, so why didn’t other people know that? I was a kid, and kids don’t think about how they look. They don’t care- until other people start commenting on it. I didn’t understand why the adults couldn’t grasp the fact that I do eat, I eat quite a bit, in fact. I tried telling them that I do eat hamburgers. I pleaded that I eat all my meals and even ask for seconds. I’m Shimmel after all, I do my best to live up to our appetite. I begged them to understand that I do try to gain weight and nothing works. Couldn’t these adults see that I do eat enough, but it wasn’t changing anything? I couldn’t do anything about it, I was helpless. No matter how much food I consumed I wasn’t gaining any weight. I still had what others called chicken legs, a bony butt and meatless arms. I was a stick. I wasn’t big enough. I wasn’t good enough.

See, kids don’t think about their appearance. They don’t care how skinny or chubby they are. They don’t care what size jeans they wear and how their body has more edges or curves. At least, until other people begin to notice. In my experience, every adult had good, harmless, even humorous intentions. However, what no one realized, myself included, was that all those comments built up over time, creating a conscious mind toward my image. I had never given thought to how I looked. I was just soaking up every minute of being a kid and I got really beaten down when someone would comment on what I had zero control over. Even today I don’t have much control over gaining and losing weight, but I’m learning that it truly can be a blessing from God, if that’s how I choose to see it.

Around middle school I really began to pick up on the things I continually heard from people, and I began to realize that something must be wrong with me. I can’t be good enough. I can’t be beautiful. I can’t be taken seriously. I can’t truly be liked by a guy. What guy would ever want a girl like me? A girl who’s this thin?

There’s two sides of society when it comes to body image. There’s the side that shames curves and tells you that size zero is size flawless, size two is size beautiful. A woman who is thin, has a thigh gap, and a flat stomach, that’s the kind of woman men find desirable, or so they say. But don’t get me wrong, if this is you and you are a healthy and naturally thin woman (I’m not talking eating disorders), then I applaud you because many girls wish they could have flat stomachs without working for it. Many women wish they could look in the mirror and not see rolls, wish they could see that gap between their legs. Regardless of what other women want and what you may see, you are unmistakably beautiful.

There’s also the other side of society that shames thinner women, telling them that guys only want women with curves. Bigger girls, curvy girls, girls with some meat on them, those girls are the ones guys really go after. If this is you, a bigger girl, a curvier girl, then I also applaud you, because there are girls (like myself) that would kill for the curves we’ll never have and the extra weight we can’t gain. Not everyone loves having a thigh gap, believe it or not. Regardless of what other women want and what you may see, you are unmistakably beautiful.

Growing up though, this is the part of society that told me I could never be wanted or truly liked by a guy because I was too thin. Guys don’t want girls like that, right? Right, I told myself. Yet I was struggling with this because I knew in my heart that God had crafted me in my mother’s womb (shout out to Mama Shimmel). He knew me before anyone else, He saw me, He loved me, and I am exactly the shape my Creator intended me to be. I am made in His image. In His flawless image, I was made. I knew this. So why couldn’t I bring myself to truly believe it? Why couldn’t I stop hating what I saw in the mirror and stop being so insecure? Why couldn’t I come to terms with the fact that if Jesus loves me enough to die for me, then surely there’s another man who could love me too?

Just like many other girls, I’m still bringing myself to terms with the truth and facing these lies head on. I’m done with self-hate and I’m done crying about something I can’t change. Some days I cringe because my eyes play games and I see something I hate, but I look away and ignore it because I won’t let Satan distort an image God has proclaimed precious.

So, you’ve read my heart on this, and I’d ask two things of you. Remember this, that we are all different, all uniquely made in God’s image. Don’t you think that if all guys liked the same body type in a girl, there’d be a lot more single ladies? Generalizing the entire male population by saying they’re attracted to one set of women isn’t exactly accurate. And making generalizations to make yourself feel better about your own insecurities is not okay either. Like any generalization, it holds true for some, but not all. It hurts women to hear you’re only beautiful if you’re a size two. In the same way, it hurts women to hear you’re only wanted when you’ve got more curves.

Let’s celebrate all body types, and stop sending a message that guys like one or the other. At the end of the day, every one likes something different and we can’t all be the same, so why do we put so much stress on it? I know it can be much easier said than done, but let’s do our best to be who God intended for us to be, and I think we’ll be alright.

Lastly, my biggest desire is for all the little girls out there. We might have our insecurities, but please, don’t harvest insecurities in girls at such young ages by negatively commenting on their body image, even jokingly. Let’s talk about their actions, attitudes, words, dreams. Let’s encourage the spirit of little girls instead of their appearance. They haven’t put much thought into their image yet, so why make it a topic of discussion? Let them keep their innocence and free spirit as long as possible. Don’t let their sponge-like minds soak up the wrong mind set too soon. Teach the little girl you hold close how to be confident in her own skin. How to be loving, respectful, and selfless, so when she becomes a woman, she’s secure in who she is as a person and as a woman of God, and that when it comes to having a man love her, her body type isn’t the priority.

Let the Osh-Kosh wearing kids play with their dolls and trains without questioning their appearance, and remind the women in your life, of all body types, that the creator of the Earth created them unmistakably beautiful.

Dear Joanie

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Dear Grandma (a.k.a. Joanie),

I just wanted to take some time to write you this Birthday Letter and celebrate YOU! Since I can’t be home to celebrate with you (dang final exams), I wanted to write a little tribute to you. The world should be privy to a little bit about you, I believe, because you are one amazing lady. I consider you to be one of my very best friends and I truly mean that. You are a shining example of a godly woman and I hope to be just like you someday. You keep my secrets, cry with me, offer me scriptural wisdom, try to teach me your ways in the kitchen, encourage me often, and so much more. Thank you for being so wonderful ❤

Here are just many of the characteristics of you and memories with you that I cherish so much. I hope they make you smile today…Happy 83rd Birthday, Joanie! I love you!

Love,

Kaitlyn

So, these are just a few of the memories and beautiful characteristics of my Grandma that you all should be aware of. 🙂 If you don’t know her, she is an incredible woman, mother, grandmother, and friend. Here’s to you, Grandma!

  • Remember our days on Martin Street? Oh the memories of LOTS of book-reading, piano-playing, marshmallow-microwaving, dressing up in your shoes and bathrobe, and playing “house” with the rabbit decoration hanging on your banister (thanks for re-sewing its arms over and over again).
  • I used to call her “Doo-Doo”. I still haven’t the slightest idea where that nickname came from, but chalk it up to the imagination of 2-year-old me 😉
  • Grandma is the most faithful Pirates Baseball fan that I know. I don’t think she has ever actually missed watching a game…
  • One day, I remember getting into a huge fight with my brother. I called Grandma up right away and told her I was riding my bike over. She let me cry and she hugged me and cheered me right up.
  • She is one of the strongest, godliest ladies I know. Despite many trials in her life, her faith in the Lord still shines bright. Grandma lost her dad at a very young age, her husband a year before I was born, and a grandchild just over a year ago. She will be the first to remind me that God is always good, no matter what.
  • Isaiah 40:31
  • She spends a crazy amount of time cutting out, organizing chronologically, and sending me the Peanuts© comic strips from the newspaper while I am at college.
  • About 4 or 5 years ago, we added an addition onto our house (the Dawdi Haus…Amish  thing…look it up!) for Grandma to live in. It has been my absolute favorite thing to be able to walk right through those French Doors whenever I want to get my hug and just sit and talk. Her cooking isn’t too shabby either 😉
  • She actually tried to set my boyfriend and I up during my freshman year…and I remember calling her right after I first met him to tell her the good news. She’s been a fan ever since
  • She has the greatest number of embarrassing and legendary stories of anyone in the family and we’ll never let her live them down…she once put her trash bags in the freezer due to missing garbage day because she didn’t want to stink up the dumpster in her apartment complex…
  • She may be the only family member in my house who knows my favorite ice-cream flavor and will take me out to get it on occasion 🙂
  • I used to sit on her lap and cuddle with her…habitually rubbing her wrinkly “knuck-nulls” (knuckles)
  • She faithfully prays for all of her children and grandchildren 

 

She is hospitable, kind, selfless, beautiful, caring, sensitive, gentle, patient, and an example of grace. I love her to the moon and back. Have a great day, Joanie 🙂

Behold…

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It’s officially December 1st, and already, the countdown to Christmas has begun! I love this season and most all it brings…snow, beautiful songs, icicle lights, delectable treats, traditions, movies…the whole shabang. One of the best parts of Christmas, I think, is that it is a season of Advent. Expectant and Hope-Filled Waiting.

The whole idea of Christmas gets bogged down with the goods, though. Amidst all those favorite things, the cliche “true meaning of Christmas” or “the reason for the season” gets lost in the flurry of everything. This is why I love the concept of Advent and learning more about how to celebrate it.

Thinking ahead to this coming Christmas (especially now that it’s actually December…AHHH), I’m a bit anxious and definitely not hopefully expectant as I should be. I’m worried about what our first real Christmas at home without my brother is going to be like (since last Christmas we were traveling). I’m worried about how our traditions are going to change. I’m worried that the holes are going to overshadow the beauty and reason for this celebration. I’m just plain worried and I know my family worries right along with me. For us, Christmas is going to look a lot different. We want some things to change to help minimize the pain, but we also want to still enjoy each other and the day overall. What does that look like? How can one be hopefully expectant when it’s our default to dread? What does the celebration of a month of Advent look like when your heart just isn’t in it?

Guess what? I don’t exactly know. But what I’m discovering throughout my thoughts and my devotions is this…

The idea of Advent is the idea of rebirth, renewal, arrival…and foreshadowing of the end of the final, current Advent that we are in all twelve months of the year.

“And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also He said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'” {Revelation 21:5}

The old has gone and the new has come! Jesus being born in the stable 2,000-some years ago ended the first Advent. The first season of waiting in the throws of life’s struggles. Now, we are in a state of hopeful expectation of when He makes “all things new”. Despite the holes and pain and tears in our current season of waiting, we can remember that our longing will not end fruitless for those of us who have a personal relationship with Christ. Our time of anticipation will end with Christ’s triumphant return and a new Heaven and Earth.

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” {Revelation 21:3-4}

I’m still unsure of how to be joyful in the middle of my trials, but the right perspective of hopeful expectation may just get me there.

Merry Christmas, all. ❤