EVEN IN ATHENS, GA. (August 15, 2016)

a little over a year ago, I moved to athens, and it was the greatest decision I have ever made. The Lord has shown me more of Himself and my identity in Him than I thought was possible. I am surrounded by people who love Jesus, and are truly pursuing Him with all that they are. YES! even in athens, ga.

but I am not naïve to the reputation that my school and my city have.

I remember the judgmental looks I got when I declared that I was packing up my life and moving to the biggest “party school” in the state.

I remember the concern that a professor would teach about evolution, and I would suddenly reject everything I had believed for the past twelve years.

I remember the automatic assumption that it would be impossible to avoid the temptations of the “evil, secular school”.

I remember the snide comments about how impossible it would be to surround myself with genuine, Christian community.

and I remember how much those looks and statements pissed me off, because seemingly, I was the only one receiving them.

moving 10 hours away from home to attend a christian university? perfect. traveling the world for a year to share the Gospel? no problem. moving two hours away to a “secular” university? how dare I. because secular college is completely devoid of the Holy Spirit… right?

I wrote a blog post the summer before I moved to athens about how frustrating it was that the same people who had once told me I would move on to do such great things were now doubting that I would even continue attending church. but after living here for a year, I’ve realized that not only were those people doubting me, they were undermining the power of the Holy Spirit. and those limits that we place on God? they only affect us. The Lord remains. a change of facts, location, or circumstances on our end, does not change the truth about who He says He is; that all of God’s promises are “YES!” in Jesus. and in isaiah 44:3, He promises to pour out water on the thirsty land; to pour out His Spirit on us.

each week I have the opportunity to stand with thousands of other students and pray for revival on this campus. and you know what? He doesn’t have to answer that prayer.

He doesn’t have to, but He always does. we are praying for the Lord to pour out water on this thirsty land, and each week, we are watching Him say YES! last night, as hundreds of us gathered to worship, I had a vision of us worshipping in that same room 9 months from now, overflowing with thankfulness for what the Lord had done this year. He said to me, “be alert! be present! I’m about to do something brand-new. it’s bursting out! don’t you see it? there it is! I’m about to make a road through the desert, rivers through the badlands.” (isaiah 43:19)

and I believe it, because I’ve watched Him do it. if I learned anything my first year of college, it was this: this life is not just difficult without the Holy Spirit, it’s impossible. but here is the good news: the Holy Spirit can move whenever, however, and wherever He wants to. YES! even in athens, GA.

PEOPLE NEED PEOPLE. (April 3, 2016)

“it ain’t easter if I’m not crying in church,” was apparently not the answer my sister was looking for. she and my brother, and presumably anyone within a five foot radius, were staring me down as I struggled to keep the tears from escaping.

being in jamaica just two weeks before, I had the opportunity to share my testimony with a large chunk of the sweet people that I’ve met in athens. sharing my testimony is one of my favorite things, because it forces me to reflect on all of the events, people, and places that have made the biggest impact on my relationship with the Lord. every time I have ever shared my testimony, I have realized more and more how much west ridge has radically changed my life. I can honestly say that I have no idea where I would be if I had not grown up in such an intentional, life-giving, Spirit-filled environment. so by the time I was back at west ridge, sitting with my family on easter sunday, these thoughts of thankfulness were already at the forefront of my heart.

in the middle of worship, they played a video of testimony after testimony. one of the things I love about being home, and being at west ridge, is that there are so many familiar faces; familiar faces, familiar friendships, familiar stories. but despite having heard so many of these testimonies before, I got more and more emotional as each one began.

as the testimony of our pastor’s sweet momma played on the screen, I began thinking about how her story alone had created such a domino effect. because her life was changed, her husband’s life was changed. because her husband’s life was changed, her son’s life was changed. and because her son’s life was changed, thousands upon thousands of people’s lives have been changed, including my own.

every testimony that followed was the story of someone who had directly affected me and my relationship with Jesus. julia, who was my small group leader on my first nicaragua trip… luke, who I had led worship with countless times… I couldn’t help but thinking about how much their stories had affected my own. if Jesus hadn’t changed their lives, they wouldn’t have been able to play the role that they did in Him changing mine.

lately, I’ve been reading through the book of acts. acts is the first book in the new testament that falls after the gospels of matthew, mark, luke, and john; acts is the first book that tells what happened after Jesus. to sum it up, acts tells the stories of the first true missionaries the world had ever seen: the apostles, and more specifically, peter and paul. I started reading the book of acts because I wanted to learn more about the Holy Spirit, but I have been absolutely dumbfounded at what else the Lord is showing me. quite literally, if these stories had never taken place, I would not be typing these words right now. if the apostles hadn’t been obedient, and traveled through judea, samaria, and to the ends of the earth (acts 1:8) spreading the good news of Jesus, then I would have never heard it. that is cray.

romans 10:14 and 15 says… how then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? and how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? and how are they to hear without someone preaching? and how are they to preach unless they are sent? as it is written, “how beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Good News!”

put simply: people need people. freshman year has taught me so much about the importance of community, and surrounding yourself with people who constantly point you back to Jesus, but I’m talking about something entirely different here. people need people because that is how God chose to spread the Good News throughout the world. He didn’t need our help to spread the Gospel, but He wanted our help. He could have chosen any method He wanted to, but He chose us. I’m sure that peter and paul had no idea that what they were doing would impact an 18 year old college student in a coffee shop over 2000 years later, but they were obedient anyway. they understood that Jesus was choosing them to spread the fragrance of Christ (2 corinthians 2:14) throughout the earth, so they did. and it created the greatest domino effect this world has ever seen.

so what does this mean for you and for me? it means that no piece of our story is purposeless. every struggle and every victory, the Lord is going to use to show You and those around you more of Himself. it means that, even if you never get to see the end result, your story has power to greatly influence those around you. your words have power to show others the love of the Father. your life is meaningful, because it has the power to impact thousands upon thousands of other people if you’re willing to put your yes on the table.

when peter and paul and the bloyes’ and julia and luke said yes to Jesus, they didn’t know that it would impact so many other people; they didn’t know that it would impact me, but they said yes anyway. when I watched veggie tales in my play room at six years old, and decided to say yes to Jesus, I didn’t know that I would one day be writing these words for anyone who chooses to read them, but I said yes anyway. say yes anyway, because people need people. people need you.

NEVER WORSE AND NEVER BETTER. (March 21, 2016)

one year ago today was the best day of my life. it took me twelve months to realize that it was also one of the worst. even writing about the past year of my life is emotionally draining, which would explain why I have hardly blogged any of it.

I struggle to find the words to explain exactly what was so horrible. all I know is that as soon as I got accepted into college, it was like a switch flipped in me. I was no longer the happy, independent, fearless young adult that I so desperately wanted to be. I was no longer excited about going to college, or motivated to finish the current chapter of my life well. I was no longer me. I always knew that going to college would be a difficult transition, but this was something entirely different. I have never struggled with so much anxiety, stress, and fear.

and for a long time, I had convinced myself that if I could just get to athens, it would be better. I would be better. in a lot of ways, I was.

my first semester at uga was better than anything I could have ever expected. athens has so many incredible things to offer, and getting involved with the wesley foundation and freshley has made a huge difference in my freshman year. but every week, I would go, and worship, and fellowship, and still come home feeling empty. I knew that there was something in my flesh that was holding me back from experiencing God the way He desired for me to, but I didn’t know what that was or how to even figure it out. so I went through the motions. I half-heartedly signed up for a mission trip to jamaica over spring break because I knew that the Lord wanted me there, but in no way did I want me there.

as second semester rolled around, not much had changed. I still had this horrible feeling in my spirit, but I could not figure out what the Lord was trying to tell me. the week before spring break was the absolute worst week of college, by a mile. looking back, I realize that all of the things that I had been letting build up inside of me were finally coming to a head. so many relationships in my life were falling apart or being redefined, I had so many questions about the Holy Spirit, and I don’t know that I’ve ever felt more lost in my entire life. the night before I left for jamaica, I laid in my bed and cried because I didn’t want to go. I didn’t believe that the Lord truly had a purpose for me being there, and I didn’t trust that He was going to reveal it to me if He did.

the first few days in Jamaica didn’t even touch those feelings. I felt even more lost than when I got on that plane. but God. man, does He have a way of absolutely wrecking everything you thought you knew about Him.

monday night, our pastor, Bob, spoke about the hearing the Lord’s voice, and with every word he spoke, I felt God tearing down the walls that I had built up around my heart. I asked one of the interns to pray over me, that I would stop letting my questions about the Holy Spirit get in the way of me experiencing God fully. as I made it back to my seat, praying and asking God to make it so obvious what He wanted to do in me, I had a vision of myself in complete and utter darkness. I had no idea which way to turn, but it didn’t matter anyway, because I was completely paralyzed by my fear. in the midst of my panic, a thin strip of light appeared. I followed it with my eyes, and suddenly, I was face to face with Jesus, and all I could hear was, “I love you. I love you. I love you.”

I opened by Bible to pick up where I had left off reading that morning in acts 5. Everything I read kept pointing back to one simple truth: fear of the Lord’s power is not going to stop what He’s doing; fear of the Holy Spirit cannot keep Him from doing what He wants to do in your life.

throughout the rest of the week, I continued to wrestle through things in my heart and mind. I know I seemed so distracted to everyone around me, and I was. I was completely overwhelmed by all of the different situations and questions I had on my heart.

then came wednesday. I spent the entire day really trying to figure out what it was I was still struggling with. I did a lot of praying and a lot of listening. and when that night rolled around, I knew that every single issue I’ve ever had in my entire life has pointed back to one deep-rooted sin: fear. I had spent an entire year of my life paralyzed by fear – fear that the Lord was going to ask me to do things that I didn’t want to do, fear that He was going to take people I love out of my life, fear of being uncomfortable, fear of being rejected, fear of my life not turning out the way I had planned. I was drowning in fear.

that night was one of the rare times in my life where I felt like all of my problems were solved all at once. the Holy Spirit spoke straight to me through bob’s preaching, and every question I had was answered. once again, I went to be prayed over, but this time, I knew exactly what needed to be dealt with. “I am so sick and tired of being paralyzed by fear! I want it gone. I don’t want to deal with it anymore!”

while she was praying over me, my small group leader, lauren, had a vision of me running as hard and as fast as I could away from my fear. fear was big, and it was chasing me relentlessly. but as they prayed that God would remove fear from my life, He struck it down, and I was completely at rest. no longer running, no longer striving.

coming home from Jamaica, I have had to make a lot of tough decisions. all of the situations I was dealing with before the trip didn’t magically change while I was out of the country. and I wouldn’t say that I changed either. I just returned.

I returned to that happy, independent, fearless young adult who has a passion for the Lord that is unmatched by anything else in my life. I have never had so much peace and joy and contentment. so many of my friends that didn’t know me before college have commented on how different I have been since coming home from Jamaica, and I’ve told every single one of them the same thing… I didn’t change at all. I’m just finally myself again. I’m finally living in the identity that Jesus died on the cross to give me. I finally let him tear down the walls I had built up around my heart and come inside.

I don’t know how it’s possible, but this has been both the worst year of my life, and the absolute best. what I do know is that suffering is absolutely worth it, if it means I can be even the slightest bit closer to Jesus. I do know that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light (matt. 11:30). I do know that the Lord will fulfull His purpose for me (ps. 138:8). I do know that in His presence, there is fullness of joy (ps. 16:11). And I do know that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (2 tim. 1:7).

He is so good, and He is waiting to rescue you out of whatever pit you’re in. whether that’s fear, lust, hopelessness – the Lord is waiting to turn your mourning into dancing.

we sang these words countless times in Jamaica, but they hold so much meaning to me now:

 

He gave me

beauty for ashes and

joy for my morning and

praise for heaviness

He put a

new song in my mouth and

a crown upon my head

He gave me life forevermore

 

He’s been so good, so so good to me

so good, so so good to me

so good, so so good to me Jesus

He’s been so good, so so good to me

so good, so so good to me

so good, so so good to me Jesus

 

You picked me up and you turned me around

and you placed my feet on the solid ground

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

 

Hallelujah. Jesus has been so, so good to me.

JUST ONE. (July 7, 2015)

‘I have learned that I will not change the world; Jesus will do that. I can, however, change the world for one person. and if one person sees the love of Christ in me, it is worth every minute. in fact, it is worth spending my life for.’ – katie davis || kisses from katie

from the minute we walked up, he had a look on his face that will be forever etched into my mind. it was as if he couldn’t believe that we were there to talk to him about Jesus and yet he knew that we were coming all along.

it was a ridiculously hot thursday afternoon in the flagsthis being our fifth day in nicaragua, and our fourth day in the village, door-to-door evangelism was no simple task. with a team of eighty-five students and leaders, and not a lot of land to cover, every single house in the village had been checked off of the map.

our translator, bill, suggested we walk a little further to the parcels, the village right next to the flags. as we turned onto the dirt path into this new village, a horse ran by and two men followed. we slowly realized that the horse had escaped, and had somehow broken a hip in the process. as the younger man tended to the horse, we began a conversation with the other.

he told us that he lived 20 minutes from where we were; his only reason for being there was to catch his runaway. I’d like to think that if you looked up divine intervention in the dictionary, there would be a picture of us standing in the middle of that dirt road. we asked if he had accepted Christ, and he said no, but that he knew that Jesus died on the cross for us, and that if he were to accept Him, he would go to heaven. he knew because he was the only member of his family that hadn’t converted.

‘so what are you waiting for?!’

one of our leaders, julie, began to share the Gospel with him and answer some of his questions about christianity.

‘Jesus loves you so much that if you were the only one He saved by dying on the cross, He still would’ve done it. He loves you so much that he sent a bunch of Americans to tell you about it.’

then he prayed to receive Christ.

my favorite part about this story is that it is exactly what I prayed for just a few hours before– one salvation. just one. 

‘I’m not really sure what to say… so I think I’ll just cry.’ 

it was the only response I could come up with. I wasn’t sure why I decided to walk across the classroom and sit next to Abby half-way through the school year, but as I sat in the hilton bathroom, crying with my small group as we listened to her explain the desperation she was feeling just a day earlier, I know it was Jesus.

it was Jesus when she, in passing, told me that she wanted to start coming back to church. it was Jesus when I invited her to #RUSHcamp, and she jumped at the opportunity. it was Jesus when her friends and family helped pitch in for her to be able to go. and it was Jesus when I got to watch her go from death to life, in salvation and baptism.

at #RUSHCamp last year, we were commissioned to go into our schools and be the hands and feet of Jesus like never before. we were on the brink of revival, we just knew it. with hands wide open, and belief that God was going to surpass our wildest dreams, we prayed and we hit the ground running.

and abby was the sole salvation. just one.

‘suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? when found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’ count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.

or imagine a woman who has ten coins and loses one. won’t she light a lamp and scour the house, looking in every nook and cranny until she finds it? and when she finds it you can be sure she’ll call her friends and neighbors: ‘celebrate with me! I found my lost coin!’ count on it—that’s the kind of party God’s angels throw every time one lost soul turns to God.’ – luke 15:4-10 (msg)

I’m a big-picture kind of girl. it is so unnatural for me to get excited about one salvation. I know that I’m not alone– how easy is it to get frustrated when God seemingly does so much less than what you were expecting?? walking into the flags, on the first day of ministry, I wanted to play a part in a lot more than just one salvation. walking into my school, the first day of my senior year, I wanted to see everyone radically changed by my Jesus. yet, I rejoiced in the one. and even the angels were rejoicing with me.

if you’re discouraged because you’ve seen just one

‘be of good courage and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of our God, and may the Lord do what seems good to Him.’ – 2 samuel 10:12 (esv) 

you do what you know to do and let God do the rest. His plan is perfect and He makes all things work together for good– what seems good to Him. sometimes that looks very different than what seems good to you. be courageous anyway. rejoice anyway.

and if you are the one…

Jesus loved you so much that He sent His own son to die the death that you deserved. He said it was finished, and it is. you and I have direct access to the God of the universe, and we can spend eternity in heaven with Him by confessing with our mouths and believing in our hearts that He is the Lord! (romans 10:9)

you may not feel very important, but the One who created the whole world loved you so much that He sent you to this blog post to tell you about it. He died for you. and when you decide to believe in Him, heaven will throw a party!

that’s how loved you are. that’s how much you matter to God. He himself will rejoice over just one! let’s join Him.

PLANTING SEEDS. (June 22, 2015)

when eighty-five high-school students and leaders give a spring break to travel to a third-world country to tell people about Jesus, we fully anticipate that our worlds will be rocked. each time our high-school ministry has traveled to nicaragua, God has moved through each team member, and has done things only He could do. but sometimes life change starts with planting a seed.

the flags is a stretch of land covered with people who are struggling to provide for their family’s basic needs. the hernandez family is no exception. at six and nine years old, ashley and kiara were a little bit timid when five americans showed up at their door. they explained that their parents typically leave them home alone, while they go out in search of work and food, but it was hard to get much more out of them. that is, until they heard the word “Jesus”. instantly, their faces lit up. they knew him. they loved Him. you could see it in their eyes.

after praying with the girls, we added their names to the list of families who would be receiving a food bag on the final day of the trip. however, when friday rolled around, a man opened the door. there was a stark contrast between his expression and the one’s his daughters had given just a few days before. you could see the hurt and confusion in his eyes.

when asked if he and his wife attended church with their girls, they were slightly embarrassed to admit that they didn’t. why? ‘no one invites us. to be honest, no one has ever even explained to me what it means to be a christian.’

we told them that God sent His son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. we explained that because of His sacrifice, we could spend eternity in Heaven with the Lord by repenting and believing. it seemed to go in one ear and out the other… until they were given a food bag.

the tears fell almost instantly. it was evident that this simple gift changed everything. ‘now I know that it is God who sent you,” he explained. “I’m out of work for the week. just this morning, I went out to try to find food for my family to eat. I could only provide scraps, but now I have enough to feed them for a couple of days!’

our translator, jimmy, reminded us all of matthew 6: 25-26

‘that is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life– whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? look at the birds. they don’t plant harvest or store food in barns, for your Heavenly Father feeds them. and aren’t you far more valuable to Him than they are?’

and for the first time, seeds seemed significant. the measly grains don’t look like much at first, but without them, birds wouldn’t survive. God uses seeds to meet an immediate, physical need. and just as He provides seeds for the birds, He provides seeds for us. we just have to decide what to do with them.

‘Jesus also said, ‘the Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. the earth produces the crops on its own. first a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally, the grain ripens. and as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickles, for the harvest time has come.’ Mark 4:26-29

the food bag was a seed that day. although denis and yvette didn’t pray to receive Christ, God was still at work. the seed was planted and it was evident that God was stirring in their hearts.  we do not understand how it will happen, but we trust that God will bring about a harvest!

just like a farmer can’t force a crop to grow, an evangelist can’t force anyone to accept Jesus Christ as Savior. what we can do is plant seeds, pray for harvest, and leave the results up to the Lord.

I AM NOT A STATISTIC. (November 12, 2014)

For as long as I can remember, the adults in my life have said to me, 

‘Gabbi, you are wise beyond your years.’

‘Gabbi, I wish I had learned those lessons as early as you did.’

‘Gabbi, I am so encouraged by your faith.’

but suddenly, these statements have changed. just a few months have passed, and they’ve exchanged their encouragement for negativity. 

‘Gabbi, I really hope that you can stay true yourself in college.’

‘Gabbi, I just don’t think you realize how tempting partying in college will be.’

‘Gabbi, I can’t believe you would even consider joining a sorority.’

Gabbi, you better have a plan or you’re going to be just another statistic.

correct me if I’m missing the point, but how in the world is any of this supposed to be encouraging? how is it supposed to be helpful?

honestly, these types of statements make me want to give up already. the people who have always told me that I’m to do great things are now suggesting that there’s little hope for me in college. that I’m just going to become another church girl gone wild. 

what if we stopped treating the youth of our churches like a statistic?
what if we stopped saying things like ‘you know, 2/3 of you guys will fall away from the church after you graduate. just saying!’?

I am WELL AWARE that it’s the truth, but I am also well aware that it’s common sense. I don’t think that it’s news to anyone who is hearing it, and I don’t think that it’s going to change anything.

so, what do I think will?
if the adults in my life, in every graduate’s life, stopped acting like there was no hope and started being the hope. 

if they started saying,
‘Gabbi, I believe that God has incredible plans for you in the next four years of your life.’

‘Gabbi, I’m committing to pray for you because I know it’s going to be challenging, BUT you can do it.’

by this point in our lives, we’ve seen it firsthand. I have watched as friend after friend has graduated and completely turned away from everything they once believed in.
don’t you think that’s terrifying? 

I don’t need your reminders, however well-meaning you may be. what I need is your encouragement and prayers. because I’m more than just a number. I’m a 17 year old girl who loves Jesus with her whole heart, and I know without a shadow of a doubt that with the Holy Spirit inside of me, NOTHING that college brings can prevent me from the incredible things He has in store for me. 

I hope you know that, too.

GOD DOES NOT HAVE A WONDERFUL PLAN FOR YOUR LIFE. (July 18, 2014)

365 days ago, we received the news that changed our lives forever.
365 days ago, we were forced into the darkness of grief and all of its unknowns.
365 days ago, we forgot what a good night’s sleep was because our reality was a nightmare.
365 days ago, we literally had no idea how to press on.
365 days ago, my precious baby cousins lost their mama.
365 days ago, we learned what it means to truly cling to Jesus. to be desperate for Him. to know in the very depths of your being that without Him, you could not move forward.

my heart is pounding as I write this because the emotions I feel today are the same emotions I felt then. sometimes, I think, outsiders forget that grief does not pack a few bags and stay until the chaos subsides; grief moves in. and let me tell you, he is not a good roommate. he takes over every single nook and cranny until you’re unsure of what was yours in the first place and what will ever be again. watching grief move into innocent little hearts is the hardest thing I have ever had to do.

the sleepovers that will ultimately result in crying themselves to sleep. the daily faces of sadness at the slightest reminder of their mom. the inability to sleep without tv or some other distraction to keep their minds from wandering to that place. the hiding in their room, clinging to her clothing, and sobbing until someone hears them and comes to distract them from their heartache. this has been our year, folks. I’m not sugar-coating it. this is the truth, and it really freaking sucks.

I so wish I could say that through it all, God revealed some spectacular reason why all of this had to happen. I mean, everything is a part of His infinite plan, right? I can’t even begin to count the number of times I have heard those words over the past year. but they’re just not true.

the Bible never said that everything that happens to us is a part of God’s plan. in fact, it says just the opposite. suffering happens because sin happened. we live in a broken, messed up world. sin rules human hearts and the consequences are brutal. to say that God planned this kind of suffering is like a slap in the face.

God allows suffering, but He doesn’t create it.

He knew that Tianna was coming to live with Him that day, but He didn’t force the hand that killed her.

romans 8:28 says, ‘and we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose for them.’
causing everything is not the same as causing everything to work together. I can assure you, I wouldn’t be worshipping a God who caused something like this. the truth is, God does not have a wonderful plan for my life. or yours, for that matter.

and for those of you who think I’m crazy, here’s a challenge for you: what are you going to do when tragedy strikes?

one of the most common reactions is to think that you did something wrong to bring the suffering upon yourself. if you’re believing that Jesus has a wonderful plan for your life, and that the strength of your faith in Him is what is keeping all of your problems away, what other conclusion could you draw when the problems come?

the issue is that the problems are never going to stop coming. this life is one bucket of misery after another until you’re drenched in suffering with no way out if you’re believing that God brought all of it upon you. this kind of thinking is infecting the minds of so many people who currently call themselves Christians, and the ultimate result is a tainted view of God or a decision that there’s no possible way He existed in the first place.

thankfully, there is hope.

God not having a wonderful plan for your life doesn’t mean there’s no plan. it just means the plan isn’t for you to live a 100% wonderful existence. our lives here on earth will be difficult, exasperating, sometimes almost unbearable, often interspersed with lots of great times, incredible experiences, and full of love. all of these things- the good, the bad, and the ugly- bring glory to Him. that is His ultimate plan: that He would be glorified. but in order for that to happen, we have to look to Him in trust, anticipating that His infinite creativity can weave both bad things and good into a lovely design.

micah 7:7 says, ‘but me, I’m not giving up. I’m sticking around to see what God will do. I’m waiting for God to make things right. I’m counting on God to listen to me.’

after the past year of life, this is my anthem. God didn’t plan for this to happen, but He is continuing to bring us through it, and I know, without a shadow of a doubt, something good will come out of it. He sees, He cares, He knows, and, yes, His will reigns supreme.

‘to all who mourn in Israel, He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. in their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for His own glory.’ /isaiah 61:3

do you believe it? if so, declare it! join me in shouting from the rooftops that He is who He says He is, and He will do what He says He will do. let’s begin a movement of trust in Jesus that is untouched by earthly circumstances. let’s show the world that we believe that God can take our brokenness and turn it into something beautiful.

OH, THAT WE MIGHT KNOW THE LORD. (January 29, 2014)

for months, God has been encouraging me to blog about a certain topic. +for months, i have given him a million reasons why i can’t, but i can sum them all up in one word: fear. fear of sounding like another hypocritical christian. fear of being seen as judgmental. fear of being judgmental. even as i write this, my brain feels like mush… so i’m letting Him take over. if this post offends you, i  wish i could be sorry. but you can only run from God for so long+i’ve decided to stop running…

in the walls of my high school, i’m surrounded by sin. i’m very aware that this is the world that we live in+that i’ve got my fair share of sin to deal with, but so many of my friends and classmates are saturated in their sin+they don’t even mind it. +you can’t expect lost people to act like they’re saved, but what about the ones who aren’t lost? the ones who proclaim the name of Jesus all over their social media profiles but put Him to shame with their actions?

it’s easy to get angry for selfish reasons. because this is why people hate Christians. because this is why people bash my church. but it is not about us. it’s not about me. not even about my church. it’s about God+that’s what makes this even more heart-breaking.

i’ve prayed so many times “Father, break my heart for what breaks Yours!” +i know that this is something that breaks His heart. because the running theme is His forgiveness.

“God still loves me!” they say, and it’s true.

“God forgives me!” they say, and they’re probably right.

but how many times can you “repent” of the same sin until you’re abusing His grace?

+how many times can you “repent” before it’s not even considered repenting anyway?

God’s grace+mercy+love+forgiveness are NOT your invitation to continue living in sin.

1 peter 2:16 says, “live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.”

1 john 2:4 says, “whoever says, ‘i know Him,’ but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.”

james 4:17 says, “anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do+doesn’t do it, sins.”

if we truly know God, we can’t continue to choose to sin. if we continue to choose to sin, we can’t truly know God. because of Jesus, there is freedom in forgiveness! but if you use that freedom to do what you want, the Bible says you’re lying about even knowing Him in the first place- yikes!

obviously, knowing God doesn’t mean you’re perfect. my biggest desire is to know God more, but i still sin every day. so what’s the difference?

i’m sinful by nature; we all are. but i don’t want to sin. every fiber of my being wants to run as far away from sin as possible. +because, i know God, i have a deep understanding that there is no sin too big for Him to forgive. but if i live in it, how is that glorifying or pleasing to Him??

the answer? it’s not. +that’s the problem.

if we know+love God like we say that we do, our ONLY desire should be to bring glory to His name.

+living in sin is just not the way to do that.

abusing God’s grace is just not the way to do that.

i’m guilty. you’re guilty. but there’s just no excuse.

let’s begin to act like people who truly know Him instead of people who only claim to.

‘oh, that we might know The Lord! let us press on to know Him. He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring.’ //hosea 6:3

WHY I DON'T WANT TO BE A "GOOD CHRISTIAN". (October 15, 2013)

a lot of people think that being called a “good christian” is the best compliment they could receive. i happen to think the opposite.

first of all, what does that term even mean? it sounds like a whole lot of religion to me. i mean, sure, it’s awesome when others notice that you spent your spring break serving others in a third world country. it’s great when others notice that you don’t cuss, party, or do anything that “normal” teenagers do. but if we begin thinking that being complimented on all of the things we do right is the best compliment we could receive, we’re missing the whole point.

being called a “good christian” shouldn’t make us feel good about ourselves. being called a “good christian” should wake us up. for me, it’s a serious heart-check. God doesn’t ask us to follow a bunch of rules, He asks us to be more like Him.

now, don’t get me wrong. going on mission trips, not drinking, not cussing; they’re all great things. but they mean absolutely nothing if your (+ mine!) heart isn’t in the right place. i read a great quote from Timothy Keller the other day that i believe captures exactly what i’m getting at:

“religion: i obey therefore i am accepted. Gospel: i’m accepted therefore i obey.”

yes, absolutely we should be trying our best to not sin! but where is our motivation coming from? from the opinions of others or from our complete love and fear of our God?

i want to become more like Christ every day, not to just look like it. that’s why being called a “good Christian” is almost offensive to me. you know what’s a million times more encouraging?

“gabbi, Christ shines through you.”

“gabbi, you are a light to your school for Jesus!”

“gabbi, i love your passion for people.”

“gabbi, you live with true conviction.”

 “gabbi, i love watching you grow to become more like Christ.”

not “gabbi, i love watching you follow all of the rules in the Bible.”

not “gabbi, you’re the best person i know.”

not “gabbi, you’re always doing the right thing.”

not “gabbi, you’re such a good Christian.”

i mess up daily. we all do. in fact, there’s really no such thing as being a “good christian”. all i can do is love God and love people; just like Jesus did. + the best part is, that’s exactly what He calls me to.

“to be mature is to be basic. Christ! no more, no less. that’s what i’m working so hard at day after day, year after year, doing my best with the energy God so generously gave me.” // col. 1:29 {MSG}

BEING A TEENAGE, CHRISTIAN GIRL STINKS. (June 21, 2013)

when I scroll through facebook, twitter, instagram, etc., sometimes I get really discouraged. it seems that everyone else is “feeling it” every single day. even scrolling through my own facebook, I feellike it seems that being a Christian + being a 16 year old girl in the 21st century looks like it’s all rainbows + butterflies. it is not that easy. so here’s the truth + I hope that somewhere, this encourages a girl like me. who sees her “normal” friends, having fun sinning + almost wants to join them. who sees her Christian friends, and knows that they have bad days, too, but sometimes feelslike the only one. I know what I know, but here’s how I feel:

a good majority of the time, I wake up in the morning + I don’t want to read my Bible. like seriously, I just want to roll back over + sleep for all of eternity. so either I force myself to read it + post a Bible verse to make myself feel good or I make up millions of excuses for the rest of the day + PROMISE to read it tomorrow… which may or may not happen.

when I get mad at someone, I want to post bad things about them so they get the memo. I want to be cryptic like every other “normal” teenage girl on social media. I want to subtweet. but I vent to my small group, some of the only people that know this side of me + lock up my feelings until I end up sobbing on the couch to my mom + taking months before I can see their name without crying again.

when people treat me poorly, I want to treat them the exact same way, in hopes that they’ll realize how it feels + stop. sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but in the end, I always end up feeling like I got the short end of the stick.

when I’m really down about a guy, I want to watch sappy movies, eat ice cream, listen to love songs, cry + forget all about how I should be putting my worth in Jesus, not boys. I know that God’s plan is so huge + what’s He has given me is His best for me right now, but I just don’t feel it. so I hole up in my room + sulk because in that moment, it’s so much easier than choosing Jesus.

+ people will tell me about how they look up to me for being such a good, Christian girl + I feel guilty because I know my true feelings. but then I remember the times when I get upset because yearbook camp is going to prevent me from doing community makeover, or when I cleaned the whole house for my mom in the middle of the night because I knew it would make her day, or when I prayed for all of my friends, out loud, by name, and ended up balling my eyes out because I felt the power of the Holy Spirit so strongly. the times where I went to Nicaragua + lead people to Christ, fully relied on God + saw miracles right before my eyes. the times when I got up + read my Bible anyway, would’ve rather talked things out with someone than posted mean stuff about them; when I treat people how I want to be treated, or days like today, when I choose to stop feeling sorry for myself + pray for God to never let me do this to myself again. because as a Christian, sometimes I’ve got to follow my head instead of heart; choose what I know over what I feelchoose Jesus. of course it’s not easy! but following my feelings only makes me feel 1000 xs worse.

so maybe being a teenage, Christian girl doesn’t actually stink. it just kinda’ feels like it.

SWEETPEA BEAUTY. (February 10, 2013)

Tonight I decided to watch Veggie Tales. I had no real reason, except that I was bored & Veggie Tales is the cutest kids show ever. But unexpectedly, God spoke to me.

This past Wednesday in small groups, we talked about being a Proverbs 31 woman. It was extremely timely because I’ve been extremely self-conscious lately. To be 100% honest, I’ve gained weight, my acne is getting worse no matter what I do, and most days, I just don’t feel pretty like I used to.

When we read Proverbs 31 on Wednesday night, it was almost as if it went in one ear and out the other. Selective hearing, whatever you want to call it, I tuned out most of the passage. The only one I remember hearing is Proverbs 31:30… ‘Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears The Lord is to be praised.’

Despite hearing the verse, I wasn’t really listening. I had heard it so many times before, I had forgotten how much truth there was to it. Somehow it sounded different coming out of SweetPea Beauty’s mouth.

I know she’s only a cartoon vegetable, but from the moment I started watching, SweetPea Beauty was everything I’ve ever wanted to be. She was a Proverbs 31 woman… Or vegetable or something… but she was beautiful because she had a beautiful heart.

When she read Proverbs 31:30 to Prince Larry, I literally just sat there in awe of my God. His timing is so perfect, and once again, He spoke so clearly to my heart. Physical beauty will fade, but the heart is what really matters. As I think about it, it’s almost crazy to me that I could forget this simple truth. I see it over and over and over again in my life. The most beautiful people I have ever met are beautiful because they radiate Jesus. And unfortunately, some of the most physically beautiful women I have ever met, I no longer find beautiful because I have seen their hearts. This verse is proven from both sides of the spectrum.

Although I was completely overwhelmed by SweetPea Beauty, the best part was Snoodlerella. She had braces and acne and she felt ugly. Society told her she was ugly. She would never live up to their standards. Snoodlerella portrayed every single teenage girl at some point. We’ve all been there. We’ve all felt ugly.

But I choked back tears as The King danced with Snoodlerella. He told her she was beautiful. He told her she was cherished. He told her she was fearfully and wonderfully made. He told her he loved everything about her.

As much as I can read about those things in The Bible, it was such an awesome visual of how God feels about us.

Ladies that are reading this, please listen. God loves you. Despite every flaw and imperfection, He loves you. You are so so beautiful. I am so so beautiful.

Psalm 45:11 says, ‘The King is enthralled with your beauty; honor Him, for He is your Lord.’

All of this is why I posted a picture of myself without makeup on tonight. I needed to make this firm in my heart. I needed to prove it to myself. To prove it to myself that I am beautiful. I am a peculiar treasure. I am His. 

And in the words of Bob and Larry, God made me special and He loves me very much!

P.S. On a lighter note, I got so many giggles out of this episode.

  • QWERTY got a voice chip and can talk… Say what?!
  • Some of the veggies have hands now!
  • They video-chatted (yes, I said video-chatted) with a girl who thought she was ugly because she had glasses and braces. Before they ended the call, Larry said, ‘Hey Lauren! I like your grill!’

Keeping up with the times, I guess.

WILLIE+JASE+JESUS. (February 6, 2013)

This time last week, my stomach was in knots. I was headed straight for confrontation, in the form of coffee at Starbucks with a guy friend, and I was worried sick. Literally. I hate confrontation, and generally try to run from it… Not this time. Actually, this particular situation is one of the few times I’ve had the courage to face conflict. And if I do say so myself, I was pretty dang bold. But let me back it up a little bit…

As like half of the world knows (sick of the dramatics, yet?), around October of last year I broke up with a guy I had been dating for quite a while. Around that same time, I met a guy who was the exact opposite of the guy I had been dating before. (Let’s call ex-boyfriend Willie & new friend-boy Jase)
Before I was dating Willie, I was kind of boy-crazy. There was a time in my life where I really struggled with finding my worth in boys instead of Jesus. And after breaking up with Willie, it was pretty easy to fall back into old habits. I had forgotten how to guard my heart in that way. Because of that, I was immediately attracted to Jase, and with good reason. He loves Jesus with his whole heart and is just one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met. 

After maybe a week, though, I had to take a step back. I realized that I really didn’t need a boyfriend. I didn’t want to jump right back into a relationship, and besides, if we were meant to be together, God would reveal that. So I tried ridiculously hard to not think of him in that way and it seemed to be working. And then our friendship became almost non-existent. Our talks got shorter… and shorter… and shorter. We would pass each other in the halls without even waving. I was not happy. 

It all came to a head one night, through another friend, and I just knew I had to talk things through with him. I wanted so badly to ignore the whole situation, but I knew that I couldn’t and that’s how I ended up where I was last Tuesday.
We cleared up a lot of misunderstanding and are on good terms now. He just wants to be friends. I just want to be friends. With that being said, I left feeling extremely disappointed. I just wanted to cry and stuff my face with cupcakes, and I didn’t know why. I opened up to another friend about it and he asked, “Do you think you’re upset because he just wants to be friends?” I had to think about it long and hard, but I decided that wasn’t it… at least completely. I told him about how much I had been struggling with being single in general. Being the nice boy that he is, he replied, “But Gabbi, you’re a really awesome person! You’ll find someone again to date soon.”
“But that’s the thing, I don’t need someone to date again soon. I want to feel like Jesus is enough.”

I sent that text and immediately got on Twitter. And then, it happened. Someone had tweeted an article about hope in singleness. I almost rolled my eyes, until I read Psalm 84:11.
‘For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.’
Dang…

‘No good thing does He withold’. The author talked about how whatever God has given you, wherever God has you right now is His BEST for you. Being single is His BEST for me. He is fulfilling his purpose for me today. That’s exactly what I needed to hear. 

The Psalmist continues… ‘O LORD of Hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in You.’ // Psalm 84:12
And boy, do I have so many blessings. 

The Lord has never spoken to me so clearly as He did that night and I needed it so badly. This article would have been enough. I was so thankful for it. And yet, He took it step further. A few days later, the same girl posted a part 2. I was so eager to read it I could barely click on the link! 

Part 2 talked about how God withholds no good thing because He has already given us EVERYTHING: Himself! It highlighted Psalm 84:10, and I think The Message explains it beautifully…
One day spent in your house, this beautiful place of worships, beats thousands spent on Greek island beaches. I’d rather scrub floors in the house of my God than be honored as a guest in the palace of sin.’
God is so GOOD that our soul literally longs to be with Him. I cried tears of joy as I let these verses resonate with me. 

Friends, I type all of this to say…
1) Conflict is good. Don’t run from it. Be brave. You won’t regret it.
2) There is hope in singleness. Being single is His very best for you. Trust it.
3) The Lord CAN and WILL speak to your heart. If you don’t believe that, I hope that this encourages you. It is not coincidence. The Word of God is a powerful thing.
4) He is so very good.

PART ONE http://blog.alyssajoy.me/?p=729
PART TWO http://blog.alyssajoy.me/?p=757

2012. (January 1, 2013)

2012 was a big year for me. Correction: HUGE… and that’s an understatement. I can’t even begin to grasp how much God has shown me over the past 12 months of my life. It was painful and ugly at times, and exhilarating and amazing at others, but all in all it was beautiful, and I’m so thankful. Out of all of my Tweets, Facebook Posts, and Instagrams this past year, there are three words I most remember using: Thankful, Humbled, and Blessed.

I had my first real boyfriend for most of the year, and maybe one day I’ll share details about it, but all I can say right now is that it was a learning experience, and although sometimes I wish I could re-do it, I’m grateful for lessons learned.

I had my first real fight with my BFF since birth, and that hurt. But we’ve learned to protect each others feelings, and are closer than ever before, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I was in a fashion show to raise money for an organization that is dedicated to the rescue of women and girls involved in sex trafficking in Atlanta.

I went on my first international mission trip and absolutely fell in love with the country of Nicaragua and everyone in it, especially my “baby” Antonio {who actually happens to be 10, 1 year older than my own brother}.

I learned… I am learning TRUE forgiveness. I’m learning grace expecting something in return was never grace to begin with. I went through some of the darkest times of my life this past year, all because of things that people did against me. I’ve never ever experienced so much hatefulness and I was hurt badly because of it. And before I could learn forgiveness, I had to accept that fact that I had been so wounded. I would like to say that I’m one of those people that isn’t affected by what others say and do to them, but that’s something that I struggle with, and it took a long time for me to admit that even to myself. But through that, I felt the grace of Jesus and in turn, was able to extend that grace to the people that had hurt me… And it felt awesome.

I lost three important people in my life: Sharon Flowers, Andrew Pray, and my precious Nanny. However, I know with every fiber of my being that eventually I will be able to worship our Creator alongside of them and I am so anxious for that day!

2012 was without a doubt the most influential year of my life thus far. I could go on forever about all of the opportunities I was blessed with, but that would take ages, and I would bore the few people that will read this to tears. Basically, what I learned this year is that suffering is good and necessary.

My mom shared something that she read with me & it went something like:
“Imagine spending Jesus’ last day with him. Feeling everything that he felt. Experiencing everything that he experienced. Literally being nailed to the cross with him. You each have your own cross to bear, but as you’re crucified, you lock eyes. You are suffering with Jesus and NOTHING could be more intimate than that.”

It’s so true. Suffering brings us closer to Jesus. We should be praying for suffering. And the best part is that Jesus identifies with suffering. He felt all of the things that we feel. I can be content with suffering because my God experienced suffering. It gives me chills every time I think about it.

So… 2012 had its ups and downs. But I can honestly say that it was the greatest year of my life. I am so in awe of my Father, and I am Thankful, Humbled, and Blessed.

[There is a faith proved of more worth than gold, so refine me Lord through the flames.]