Doubts as a Writer

Being a writer and also a major perfectionist are two things, I've learned, that often seem to clash. My perfectionistic ways haven't always hurt me, though: sometimes it gives me the extra drive I need to go above and beyond, which is critical as a writer, since writing is one of those things that so many do or want to do.

I don't always remember feeling so insecure about it, but time has gone on, and maybe with age I've just realized more hard truths about the writing and blogging world. And the reason I figured I'd blog about it is because I think it's something a lot of people will be able to relate to, even if they don't admit it. And really, even though this post specifically focuses on doubts with writing, this could be with anything, any dream you have or thing that you want to do.

I've been doing a lot of thinking back. Back to my journey of writing and actually finishing my first novel. I can't believe that was almost four years ago. The thing about it is that you oftentimes hear authors and writers say something along the lines of, oh, the first book I wrote was terrible and not at all suited for publication, but it was good practice, or something along those lines. But honestly, I don't feel like that really applies to my book. The writing of it is kinda sloppy, but it wasn't like I didn't know what I was doing, either, and I fixed a lot of it with edits. But even more than the writing was the themes. I know that it was a story that needed to be told. And if I had the opportunity to publish, I would. I might go through and add some things like I talked about here, but that's still a book I hope to publish one day.

The thing that I think about most, though, is how seemingly natural it felt to write that book. I'm not kidding. I know it was tough; writing requires perseverance. But I finished it in under a year. The themes and characters just seemed to develop with clarity—even though I know I can still make them better. I just don't remember it being a constant struggle like this second book has been for me. It doesn't have anything to do with the second book's plot—I daydream about it all the time and sharing it with people, but for whatever reason, it's like whenever I go to write it, it's always lacking. I just don't remember the first book being that hard to write.

Maybe it's because I truly didn't have any expectations for my first book. I mean, I was only eleven years old; I didn't even think I had it in me to finish a novel. But God helped me do it, and He helped me do it swiftly, which is how I know it was important. I think this next story is important, too. I think the thing that's changed, honestly, is the distractions.

I've talked about distractions before, here in this post. I've talked about how there is such a thing as too much information, where it's overwhelming and makes you overthink everything. That can happen with anything. Take the blogging world, for instance. I think one of the reasons I stopped blogging for so long is because I absolutely despised the new direction of blogging. It felt cheap to me, and I almost thought what was the point? Blogging, once upon a time, used to be about telling stories, plain and simple. It was a place for people to share their thoughts and entertain somebody with their writing or even inspire them, which was perfect for me, and I jumped right on board. But then I watched, oftentimes with horror, as everything started to change. Suddenly those honest posts where you would just write out your thoughts were meaningless, and it became all about blogging what you know. And you know what cracks me up more than anything? There's like, honestly, hundreds of blogs and "businesses" ALL blogging about the same thing: how to blog. And how to make money blogging. And how to make so much money blogging that you can quit your real job and travel the world to write!

And I'm sorry, but that just feels cheap to me. Look, I'm not saying it's a bad thing to want to make money writing or even to want that to be your job because I myself have wished for those things. But I think the thing that annoys me most about this attitude shift is just people's motives for wanting that. They're cheap, kind of selfish motives, really. The whole point of writing is to share something with the world that you feel you need to, something that I believe should be meaningful. And, seriously. Does the whole world really need to know how to make millions of dollars off their blog so they can, what? Quit their job? Buy a bunch of ridiculously expensive clothes to show off? Travel and run away from everything? I mean, seriously?! That makes writing and blogging look so cheap, like it's just some quick get rich scheme for people who just want to live off their romantic life fantasies! That isn't the point of writing! It SHOULDN'T be.

And I will probably lose all of my blogging connections for saying that because that's seriously what most of them do nowadays, but sorry not sorry, I think it's wrong. And I know some people will probably get offended by that and claim they don't do that, but I've had a lot of time to watch and observe, and that's what it looks like to me. Why else would there be thousands of e-courses promising to teach you how to make so much money so you can...quit your job...make tons of money...? Do those reasons honestly sound meaningful? They're not promising to teach you how to write meaningfully, how to inspire people through writing... No. They're teaching you how to make MONEY. Which is not in and of itself bad to want money, but again, it all comes down to people's OBSESSION with that. Welcome to America.

My point in even bringing this up is because it hurts my heart to see a writing career degraded like that, because then everyone wants to do it just to live out their getting rich fantasies, and it has nothing to do with them being actually passionate about writing or inspiring people through writing. Being an author is the same way—I see TONS of articles on those, too.

It reminds me of those Christians who do nothing for God—you know they don't really care about Him—but yet still talk the talk because they want the perks and benefits of going to heaven and the title of being a Christian. And sorry, it doesn't work that way. If you're not serious about your faith, then don't you dare pretend to have one just to get the benefits. It's not fair to those who legitimately have faith.

My point in this post, though, wasn't really to stir up anything controversial, but then the more I thought about it, I thought that nobody addresses this in the writing world, and somebody really needs to. I mean, I read a post on selecting an English major, telling people the hard truths about it: that no, not everyone makes it "big" like everyone seems to want to in their writing for the money. There's a lot of work, dedication, and craft that need to—and should—go into writing. And people need to know that.

But here's my point in sharing this: seeing all of those articles about making money writing and blah blah blah filled me with insecurity. For one, because like I said, it sends a horrible message about the purpose of writing as a whole. But more than that, it was just so overwhelming. And when talked about like a money making scheme, EVERYONE is going to want to try their hand at it, even those who do not have the willingness to truly develop as a writer. That means more competition, and I hate competition. So I began to wonder what my point even was as a writer. Because I know I won't be making money off of mine anytime soon, though that was never my intentions to start a blog and get rich anyway. But I just thought, with all of these people who may know the business aspects of marketing yourself and I don't, what is the point in writing?

And it became a similar pattern with my book. I just couldn't stop reading things about improving your craft—which is important to become educated on writing; I mean, I just complained about people who aren't willing to do that, but it just goes to show that there's a balance.

What happens when you get tangled into this mess is that you lose sight of God. And He's the reason I write. He's the One who, ultimately, is going to decide where my writing goes, not the business analytics, or SEO, or anything else. And I just shut Him out of it. Same with my book. I read too many articles and began to doubt everything about myself as a writer. Just the other day I was reading an article on showing and not telling in writing. It talked about how you should not use the word "felt" because you can SHOW how a character is feeling. So I did a search in my book for the word "felt." I already have almost thirty uses of it in the first 10,000 words. Talk about discouraging you before you can even get going.

But that's where you have to stop that. You have got to remain focused on God and doing what He tells you to do like I talk about here. So if He's calling you to write for His glory? Then DO IT. And don't spend the better half of your time going crazy trying to figure out promotions and the business side of it. What? DON'T do that? Yep, I went there. Seriously. I was going crazy for the longest time because I had all the social media and was doing my best I could when it came to promoting my blog and getting it out there, and I don't feel like I was getting good results. It was immensely discouraging, and it made me want to quit, to be completely honest. Because I don't like sharing things if I can't help people, and you're obviously not helping anyway if no one sees it. But I had to learn to release that. To just trust that God would get my writing where it needed to be. So I deleted the vast majority of my social media because I was done playing the games. Done trying to compete and market myself when really, I just wanted to write. That's why I started.

And it's the same with my books and with anything you do. You just have to do it. Don't get sucked into the world of being a "girlboss" or whatever. You'll never make it on your own. You have to have God's help. And it is hard sometimes to wait on those opportunities—take it from the most impatient girl alive. But even back then, I blogged about that here.

I'm so guilty of doing things on my own, of not consulting God and just plowing into everything, taking on more than I can handle. But God never asked me to do that. He asked me to write. And I know, that if it's His will, and these are stories and words He wants to share for His glory, then the rest will come. The opportunities and everything.

You have to trust Him. You have to do what you do for pure motives, because it's what He wants. Not to make a million dollars, even though, at one point in my eight year old mind, I did write this in a journal:

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Haha. I'm also not trying to specifically call anyone out or be mean to anyone, bloggers or writers. But I'm just trying to emphasize that in today's society, everyone thinks it's about money and stuff. And it's not. Life is about so much more than that; writing is about more than that.

And it all goes back to God, to trusting Him to take care of us and looking for our joy in Him. True joy is found in obeying Him, so if that means writing for Him, then do that and don't get so insecure about what other people are doing. God has a plan for YOU and what He's called you to do. I always worry that I'm missing it because you know me, I don't take waiting very well, and waiting to me looks like missing hundreds of opportunities. But not to God. And I have to trust that. And I have to write for Him alone.

Oh! I took an online quiz one time (ha, one time, no, I take them all of the time because I get a kick out of them and because they give me meaningful advice like which type of house I should live in and what makeup style I should wear, haha {for the record, it says I should live in a castle, and I don't disagree}). This particular quiz was over what I should blog. And it said I should blog about my life, and that it's actually pretty interesting. And I was like, you know, you're not wrong. I don't know if sitting on the computer for hours on a Friday night taking random quizzes counts for anything, but who knows, you might learn a lot from that that needs to be shared! Yeah, they said I should blog about boy drama and hanging out at school and all those wonderful things. And of course I was like, why not! I don't have much boy drama for you right now, but just wait until I write another letter to my future husband! I'm sure talk about living in a castle will come up. :)

But anyway, this meaningless quiz actually did give me a bit of insight, saying that the best blogs are ones over personal experiences anyway, which I totally agree with. It just reaffirmed everything I've been writing about and my goals in writing, but then just when I need it, God also sends just the right people to encourage me as well, and that's why I want to write. To inspire people and encourage them, too.

And if that million dollars shows up somewhere along the way? All the better. But that's up to God. :) And money or no money, that isn't the point of life. The point of life goes back to my fourth blog post I ever published: inspiring people for His glory.

That's the goal, and that's my goal as a writer. I'm not going to let doubts of anything else stop me because I want to live for and honor God. And my final advice is to not worry about what other people are doing. Worry about what God is telling you to do. You'll be rewarded for it, because He's amazing like that, and it's reward enough even to see Him working.

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Reflecting on My Favorite Quotes {Fulfilling Dreams}

I've already blogged about my thoughts over some of my favorite anxiety quotes. I have folders with some of my favorite quotes that I love reading that help me come up with writing themes or just are good reminders of life lessons I agree with. So today, I thought I'd go over my thoughts on some of my favorite quotes over your passions and fulfilling your dreams. I've already blogged extensively about my tips for helping you fulfill your dreams, and these quotes are the encouragement I need to go after mine. I don't have nearly as many of these as I did with anxiety, but they're short and sweet and make their point nonetheless.



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Jeremiah 29:11—never underestimate the power of this verse

My first quote talks about the importance of believing in your dreams because they have a purpose. I've wrote about that before in this post, where I talk about how your passions aren't random; you're supposed to do something with them. I get really antsy because I have a lot of passions and don't feel like I get to do much of anything with them right now. (Then again, we all know patience has never been my strong point.;) Mainly I have the passion to make a difference through writing, but it's hard to do that when you don't have a finished novel, and the one you did finish needs to be rewrote. But anyway, oftentimes that leaves me feeling really discouraged, and then I begin to wonder if those dreams and passions I have mean anything. But they do, just like yours do. So long as you're using them to do good, for the glory of God.

The other quote that I love talks about when you can't get something out of your head and it's all you think about, it is something you should work for. I really started realizing this during seventh grade, playing basketball, how I thought basketball was what I wanted, but my mind kept drfiting during practices to my blog, and my books, and all of the things I wanted to do there. With anything I do, I always think of ways to tie it in with my writing. I can never get it out of my head. Also, psychology is beginning to be like that for me, too. I hardly know anything about psychology to be honest, in terms of the science of it. I mean, I know some psychological facts, and I have read various Christian posts that go into some psychological issues, but that's probably about it. I'm taking an advanced psychology class next year though, and I can't wait for it! But anyway, there's just certain people, sometimes even people that I don't know, that I just can't get out of my head. And no, it's not just the guys I crush on, but they're there too. ;D That might sound weird, but just their stories stay with me, like I NEED to write about them and that there's something to be learned through observing other people. So usually when I have situations or people that I can't stop thinking about, I play around with different story and plot ideas and themes because maybe there's an underlying message in there that needs to be shared.

Also, a lot of quotes talk about not letting age become a factor in your dreams, regardless of how young or old you are. The truth is, if you're still alive, God has a purpose for you. In fact, I can remember back to when I was really getting into prison ministry and wondering about if even people like them had value (because society relentlessly says that they don't), and so that's actually how I learned that. There was a song I love called "Here for a Reason" by Ashes Remain, and I remember thinking how if that applies to us as Christians, that God has us here for a reason, that's true for anyone. So don't waste your life. Use your passions for His glory. No matter what you've done, or who you may be, God can still use you to do great things. That's the major takeaway here. And those shouldn't be underestimated. It's a short, simple message, but it just may be one of the most urgent ones people need to hear, that their lives do indeed have purpose, and that shouldn't be wasted on meaningless things.

Ashlee Mae

Finding Yourself | My Middle School Journey

It seems like just yesterday I was entering fifth grade. Here in a week now, I'll already be done. A freshman in high school. That's actually hitting me now. Plus I ended up passing my driver's test, and I did get my permit, so you all need to stay off the sidewalks now. ;)

I have been ready to be done with middle school for quite some time, but there are things I will miss, and most of all, I'll never forget all that God has taught me over the four years. The faith He's developed in me has been priceless, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Plus, as you get older, there's more responsibilities. Duh. But I kind of like it when my mom and dad pay for everything. Those days will be over before I know it, too. . . .

But why keep what you learn to yourself, right? I endured four years of middle school, and each one brought with it different challenges and triumphs. The biggest, most important thing I learned in middle school is to find yourself. And I can't wait to pursue the things I am passionate about at the high school. I learned so much, though, each year. I started my blog in August 2014, which was the beginning of my sixth grade year. I actually did have some blogs before this one while I was in fifth grade, but I promise you all didn't miss anything worth reading. ;)

I believe I completely surrendered my life to God in summer 2013, and the fall of 2013 was the start of fifth grade. I'll go through everything I learned in each grade; it was amazing to see how God worked on different areas of me each year, and now just looking back and seeing how He's provided. . . . I can't wait to do this again in high school. So, to anyone entering middle school or currently going through or for anyone who just needs the reminders . . . I present to you the most important things I've learned about life and God during my middle school years. Consider it your middle school survival guide, although I've learned that you can apply these lessons to anything in your life, middle school or not.

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5th Grade

This year was the start of learning my most important lessons. I was still pretty worldly, but I know my mind was set on living for God, though I still battled the typical teenage girl feelings hard: wanting to fit in, not understanding why nice girls aren't popular, etc. I wanted to be popular. I wanted to be liked for who I was, I wanted attention, and I got mad watching other people get it. It was a worldly desire, but what fifth grader doesn't battle that? This year was mostly a foundation of learning what success really is and how to get it. So let's have at it: my lessons from fifth grade.

Hard work will get you far.

Ever since I was little, I never felt the need to argue with authorities; I just did what I was told; I feared ever getting in trouble, even for the littlest of things. So for me, doing my work and doing it well was never a CHOICE. I don't know why people think it is. It's not. But I learned that pretty quickly. When you put your best effort into homework, into presentations, teachers take note of that.

How I learned this: One time I compiled this big presentation over a topic I was interested in for a class, and after I presented it, my teacher I presented it to sent me a super nice email telling me how she could tell I put the effort into it and those types of things. It was really assuring to hear.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
— Colossians 3:23-24 NIV

Find your niche.

I don't ever think you're too young to find that something you love to do and to find what you do it for. Of course, for some this takes longer than others, and that's fine. I praise God that He gave me mine at a young age. I used to write consistently in a diary when I was eight or nine years old, and I have this bio page I wrote for myself in the back of it because even then I liked to pretend I was writing books, so that was like my "about the author" page. But I wrote about how I loved to write and I wanted my stories to guide people into a saving relationship with Jesus. I wrote in fifth grade, not anything I wanted to pursue, but it ended up leading me to write what was my first novel. So find your niche as soon as possible. Don't spend your days screwing around thinking it'll just come some other day. Work for your dreams NOW.

You'll meet some amazing people.

I met quite a few awesome teachers during my middle school years, and I definitely had some from fifth grade. If it weren't for them, I truly don't think I would've been where I was upon entering sixth grade. They were key people in teaching me about success and making sure I had my mind on the RIGHT success. I still email those teachers, and I don't think I'll ever forget the impact they had on my life.

Being liked for your character is the most important thing.

There were many things I wanted to be liked for in fifth grade. Looks, athleticism, smarts, talent, etc. But, thanks to the teachers as I mentioned above, I learned that stuff really doesn't matter nearly as much as being thought of well for the type of person you are and the choices you make. Your character is what people will remember most. Being liked for that, for doing the right thing, is truly what's most important.

Success is found through your character.

With that being said, my teachers taught me this most of all: success will come through that. Your character. When you work hard, when you treat people with respect, when you follow rules, when you love people like Jesus loves them . . . that's where you'll find TRUE success. I remember at the end of my fifth grade year, for one of my classes I had to write a paper over a topic we'd just finished learning about. It was like our test. I was stressed about it because for some reason or another I failed my previous one, so I really needed to boost my grade. All I prayed for was a decent grade, one that would just get me by.

So when my teacher gave it back to me, graded, I was astonished by what it said. Basically she told me that it was really good, and she told me, once again, how because of your character, you will have success. As an insecure eleven-year-old still wondering why I couldn't fit in and be popular like some of the other kids in my grade, it did wonders for my soul to read that. The most special thing wasn't even how I raised my grade but rather how she could think of me that way and encourage me that way. It was truly a lesson I wouldn't--and still won't--forget. And it set me up perfectly for sixth grade, which I'll get to.

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Getting a dog is a great idea.

Last but not least, getting a dog is a great idea!!! We got Willy April 2014, and he has been one of the biggest blessings!! Except I think Mom just wanted to kill him a little bit ago because he was trying to get in the garbage, and he refused to drink his water (he's a diva and thinks he needs new water to drink every time because it's dirty or something, who knows for sure???).

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6th Grade

As I mentioned earlier, the things I learned in fifth grade were a great foundation because I needed them. I had a lot of friends leave or move away during this grade, and I also really began devoting more and more of my time to God, and my feelings of insecurity at school seemed to double as I battled what it was I really wanted to do. I got frustrated with why certain people could be popular, and other nicer, also talented people weren't. Since I had a blog in sixth grade, you can actually read some posts I wrote about these feelings and what I'd learned. I'll link them below. Here is what I learned. . . .

Not everyone will turn out how you expected.

I remember wanting a girl I could talk deep with my faith about, and I remember thinking I found a girl like that, until a few months later, we started distancing after me feeling like it was one-sided, and then I heard about choices she was making, and I was like, ohh-kay. Not what I expected. And that's life. People will hurt you. You may not understand why, but trust God when He says He has your back because eventually you will see why some of your friendships may have not worked out like that.

Popularity is shallow and temporary.

Oh my gosh. When I think of sixth grade, I remember how badly this bugged me. Why were snotty people popular and nice people completely dissed? It irritated me to no end. I could not understand for the life of me why I couldn't be popular. I remember during the orientation for sixth grade, some of the popular girls got some sort of recognition somehow, and it hurt me bad because I didn't see why that was fair. And I remember actually crying to my mom one night about why I wasn't like that when I did some of the same sports and everything. I contemplated doing more and just for the life of me could not understand.

But I had to learn just how shallow and temporary that popularity really is. I wrote about it extensively in my posts at that time, so make sure you check those out linked below. But basically, God was able to get word to me that NO, that is not the shallow, temporary attention I want. One time I wrote down in the middle of some class, "God told me, 'Greater things await you.'" Because it's true. Greater things do await you. Wait for the real deal, the real success, not the worldly attention that fades away as quickly as it comes. Aim for something greater.

People will leave.

I had a lot of friends move away, and that bummed me out. It left me feeling lonely, and that's kind of where most of the loneliness that followed in the coming years started. But again, that's life, people will leave. Don't let that stop you from pursuing your goals and passions, though, just to fit in with somebody else.

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Know your purpose.

Know your goals. The only thing that got me through sixth grade was God and the purposes He had for me, to live for Him. Keep your mind on Him and living your life for Him, fulfilling your goals and your purpose. That's what matters.

Learn your worth and own your gifts.

I had to dig deep and find my worth in God that year because I had my feelings hurt a lot, usually around not being appreciated for my gifts. See, even back then writing was my #1 priority, but I also played basketball. And back then I wanted to be really good at basketball. Other popular people played it, and I remember constantly feeling pressure to perform, to be as good, to prove people wrong. Whoa. Prove who wrong? For what reason? I don't have anything to prove to anyone. I don't have to be good at basketball just because that's the popular thing to do. Own YOUR gifts. If writing is your gift, why are you ashamed of that? God gave it to you for a reason, so own it and stop trying to prove yourself where it doesn't matter.

Nobody has a gift like you do. Your gifts are special. Don't throw them away because you're too busy trying to be popular.

Write about what you're passionate about.

In sixth grade, I started writing on my blog about controversial, deeper thoughts I had. Thoughts such as the competitive sporty world and the fight for popularity. I'm glad I did. Those thoughts need to be said. Someone has to tell your story. And the best person to do it is you.

You'll be under credited.

Again, this is part of life. Not everyone is going to see how special your gifts are, how special YOU are. But God does. And that is why we do things. So just keep pressing, and as I learned in later years, you'll be rewarded.

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There's more to life than being successful in the world.

I know when you're young and all your peers have all this attention, it's so easy to fall into the trap and want it too. But I promise that there's greater things--much greater things--than just being successful in the eyes of the world. When you're successful in God, that is truly when doors will be opened for you. God's plans far exceed your worldly ones. Trust Him. Live for Him.

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Know that greater things await you.

That night when I was super discouraged and unable to know my worth, God directed me back to that comment my teacher wrote to me. I ended up writing her and telling her how I felt, and she once again wrote back with just the encouragement I needed. And basically she said that greater things are coming. When you work hard for God and keep your eyes on Him, there is seriously no end as to the good He has planned for you. And if you don't get it in this life, you'll get it in the next.

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Sometimes life seems scary.

Know that God is bigger than all of it. He has a good plan for you (Jeremiah 29:11).

Rejection is part of life.

Last but not least, rejection. That happened with my sports that year, and it hurt. It was one of the deepest things that hurt me, but I learned some very important things through it, and I wrote a whole post on it.

Check out all of my blog posts from me in sixth grade about what I'd learned:

2014 Basketball

An Honest Post: Me at School

Writers Observe

Rejected

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7th Grade

Oh, dear seventh grade. I kind of hated you. No, just kidding. But this was definitely the hardest year of the four. I finally got over the popularity thing, but once I dedicated everything to living for God, that brought with it opportunities to be bold for Him, which is going to have consequences. Jesus warned us of them. They were worth it, though, and what I learned was worth it. But let's just say I was glad when this grade was done for sure.

God will meet your needs.

I had a lot of things that worried me going into seventh grade, and then when I did school basketball, that stressed me out because it was more intense than I'd imagined, but one thing was clear: God did meet my needs, every time.

Your interests will change and that's okay.

In sixth grade, I couldn't have imagined not playing basketball after seventh grade. But one year of school ball and I was done. It was incredibly time consuming, stressed me out more than it relieved stress, and I was just like, no. I still do not regret that decision.

Stick up for what you believe in.

Goodness, I had so many opportunities to stick up for my faith in seventh grade, and I thank God that I took them. I also wrote about these in a post from when I was in seventh grade. But this is so important. If you just say you believe something and never defend it, what even are you doing believing that then? Stick up for the beliefs you have.

Glory is short.

I remember I actually did pretty well in basketball that year, and my name came up a lot on the statistics and such. But really, that is so short, the glory that comes like that. It means nothing in the long run because I guarantee that now nobody remembers that. That just proves the popularity that comes with those things is worthless.

You will receive the grace you need to endure what you need.

Of all the years, I definitely endured the most in seventh grade. It was exhausting, but I lived. I was still able to rejoice. God promised to give you the grace you need for what you are going through (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Don't be afraid to let go of some people. 

As you grow up, your interests will change. What you're passionate about will change. And unfortunately, this may mean you might have to let some people go as you go down the different paths of life. Sometimes it just may be time. It hurts, but if there's a good reason to where you can't connect anymore, then maybe it is time for you to let some people go. 

Life is too short to be with the wrong people. 

With that being said, you may just be with the wrong people. The Bible is clear that we need to be careful about who we're super close to so that we're not tempted into sin, so know that this may end up being the case, too.

There are seasons in life and some are drearier than others.

7th grade was a hard year. Know that not every year will be the greatest, but you keep pressing, you keep after your goals, because eventually the new season will come. The season to reap.

Be able to defend your beliefs.

If you say you believe something, make sure you know how to defend it. Nobody is going to do that for you, as I learned in seventh grade when we started studying topics I didn't agree with. It's fine to learn about other things like that, but know what you believe and be able to defend it.

Be grateful for what you have.

I've always been a pretty content person in life, but sometimes just watching how kids take things for granted just drove me insane. Appreciate your life and where you're at. It'll do wonders for your soul.

Check out all of my blog posts from me in seventh grade about what I'd learned:

A Prayer About 7th Grade

Show It

Revisiting My Honest Post Over School

How to Overcome Feeling Alone

Living Your Faith: I Will Not Chill Out

Persevering

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8th Grade

Eighth grade had me stressed upon entering it because of the previous events in seventh grade. If you read my seventh grade posts linked up above you'd understand why. I was worried about feeling lonely, and I haven't had the chance to write any posts about eighth grade yet except for my beginning of the year prayer.

Looking back, however, has been awesome. Each year truly was preparation for the next, and God's faithfulness has been extremely evident. I learned A LOT in eighth grade, so brace yourselves. . . .

Don't be afraid to try something new.

I decided to take an advanced class this year, and while I think it was a little much for me, it was still good to try, and I think it'll really give me a head start for high school next year.

God will provide for you.

I was so worried about my feelings of loneliness this year. And at times, I felt the loneliness deeply. But this year God organized some awesome connections with some awesome people into my life, and I'll never, ever forget them or the people I've gotten to know. He has provided me with some people that truly do care about every aspect of me: not just me on the surface level, but also my faith; and not only my faith, but also me and my dreams on a personal level. I needed that, and it was amazing to watch Him provide.

Grades aren't everything.

My grades stressed me out a lot this year. Preferably my math grade haha. I've never been an easy learner when it came to that class . . . but honestly. Look at the big perspective of life. Do the best you can in your classes, and just trust God with the rest. Because one day your grades won't matter either.

God can do anything.

He is faithful. That was so evident this year. The way He organized some of the connections and relationships in my life . . . I'll always have those, and I'm just so thankful because I never would've thought He would've provided the way He did. But of course He did. He's amazing like that.

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Give yourself grace.

I have a personality type that can be really prone to beating myself up. Like, I can forgive other people pretty easily, but I can hardly ever forgive myself. But that's not good. Eighth grade brought with lots of, well, hormonal changes probably. I probably cried about something at least once per week, don't even ask me what, probably something stupid that I'd already learned but then was acting like I hadn't. That kind of started in seventh grade, although I actually had legit reasons to be upset then, but this year, oh my gosh. Emotions were on a rollercoaster the entire year. And part of that led to me getting so frustrated with myself. Plus, some of my thoughts were not that good as well, and I would always beat myself up for thinking the way I did. I'm a firm believer that you shouldn't blame your choices on circumstances, including hormones, but there's a fine line because honestly, hormones can affect a lot of legit things, including your thinking, which can make it extremely difficult to think the way you know you should. So just confess your sins and be done with it. Learn to forgive yourself.

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Teenagers need authenticity from adults.

I can't express this enough. The closest relationships I've formed with adults are ones where they're real with me. They don't act like they're better than me. They don't act like they don't have the time for me. They get real with me, about life, about faith, about my dreams and desires, etc. Teenagers need this. It's crucial for their walk with God and their overall psychological well being.

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Teenagers need someone to care about them.

And I think this is even more crucial, and I'm passionate about this. I can't thank the teachers and adults in my life enough who have went out of their way to pursue me and check in with me, even if I didn't appear to need it. They didn't only check in with me when life was hard, they always kept in touch with me and made sure things were going okay. Teenagers need someone that will listen to them, that will ask them how they're really doing, that will get to know them beyond the surface level, that will ask about their dreams and desires and help them achieve them and become the person God wants us to be. You can't just expect teenagers to come to you--if you really want to care for a teen and encourage them, especially in their walk with God, to the best of your ability--YOU must be the one to reach out to them. Adults have to do their part with this. Teens need to know that you care about them and that they're not just some project to you that you want to fix. And I have had teachers that will truly reach out to me because of that--they care. And I will never forget them.

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Make the time to renew your mind.

As I mentioned earlier, emotions can be messy in middle school. Make sure you take the time to renew it, with the Word, with devotions, with going outside, with doing something you love. It's crucial.

People notice how you act.

When you act with respect and are courteous of other people, don't think people don't notice that. In sixth grade, I used to get angry because I would do the right thing, and nobody cared, but in eighth grade I just did it because I wanted to for God regardless, but then I actually got some opportunities to hear about people noticing it and how much they appreciate it. People notice bad behavior, but they also notice and appreciate good behavior.

You'll never regret doing the right thing.

Doing the right thing is always worth it. It will benefit you, and it will have a lasting impact on the people around you, whether you notice it right away or not.

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Your choices affect everything whether you like it or not.

This was something I learned a few weeks ago after just witnessing some of the behavior of my peers. I'll let my Instagram caption I wrote then say it:

The choices you make, whether you like it or not, are what define you and reveal what you live for. Actions speak louder than words. Anyone can talk good, but it’s something else entirely to make good choices. And at the end of the day, that’s what people will remember. So if you don’t like the way someone thinks of you or you don’t like the way your life is going, maybe you should think about those choices you make. You don’t have to live defined by your past, but that doesn’t mean you should waste your future. ~something I’ve learned through my middle school years
— @sparklesbyashlee Instagram

Caring about people and their stories is immensely important.

I am passionate about caring for people. I wrote a blog post draft all about this a month ago, but it still needs work, so I won't publish it yet. But really. And I've noticed a trend: a lot of people will SAY they care about you but just make no effort to truly get to know you as a person, to care about your entire story and who you really are. That should change. We shouldn't just care about people when they have problems. We shouldn't just care about people on the surface level. If you say you care about someone, then show that you do and get to know them and their story. Because you just never know who may need it.

There is no such thing as too dark of a situation for God to handle.

We had to learn about the Holocaust this year, and for one of our projects, we had to pick a book over the Holocaust and read it, then do a bunch of work over it. When my teacher told me some of titles of books she had about this topic when she first introduced the project, I heard she had one by Corrie ten Boom, and having heard about her on a Christian article I read once, I knew I wanted to read her book. I read The Hiding Place, and it exceeded my expectations. She has such an amazing story of God's power and love in a situation so horrible like that. It blew me away and really gave me a fresh perspective on my life. She is a witness for Jesus if I ever saw one, and truly she is one of my role models.

Care about people's sufferings.

This is something I've always felt passionately about, especially since my generation doesn't know how to care about anyone but themselves, but learning about the Holocaust took this to a whole new level. Yeah, we think our lives are bad. . . . Not at all. Get your mind off of your own petty problems enough to see the heavy, intense sufferings people around you are going through.

Being empathetic is a great quality to learn.

I am an extremely sensitive person. I've been that way since I was little. I'd bawl about stories I read or watched and wouldn't forget them for weeks, as if the sadness of them would traumatize me and make me want to help somehow, even if they were just fictional. I could and can cry over people I don't even know but feel heartbroken for. And for awhile I always thought something was wrong with me, as if I cared about people too much or obsessed over things like that. And then I would get mad at my sensitivity and think it is the worst quality ever.

Learning to manage your sensitivity, obviously, is a must. But to me, I don't think there's anything wrong with being sensitive. In a world full of apathetic people or people that can't get their eyes off of themselves, I actually think being sensitive to the needs of others is a gift. How can you care about people too much? How can you forgive too much? How can you love too much? You absolutely can't. God is the perfect picture of perfect caring, perfect forgiving, perfect loving. It is truly my goal to be somebody who cares, loves, forgives. In a world full of people that only love conditionally, I want to be someone who loves unconditionally. There's a quote I just adore that says that in a world full of people who couldn't care less, be someone who couldn't care more. That is something I try to live out daily.

And another says that you should love others so radically that they wonder why. Forgive the person that isn't sorry, that did it on purpose. Love the person that has given you every reason not to. Care about someone who's throwing their life away and doesn't even know it. Love the unlovable. Forgive the unforgivable. Those are some of the best qualities you could ever possess.

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There's nothing wrong with being sensitive.

With that being said, I don't think there's anything wrong with being sensitive, so long as you just manage it well and don't destroy your own emotional well being through it. Which may take time to learn. But that doesn't mean being sensitive is bad. Other people may not understand it. They may make fun of you for caring so much about somebody or something, but God needs people that are passionate about His people, especially His lost people and His hurting people. I think being sensitive to the needs of others is a wonderful thing to have.

Don't stress the future.

I love to dream and plan my future, which can be fun to do, but just remember that nothing is set in stone, things can change, but no matter what, God won't. And because of that, you have no reason to fear the future.

Let yourself dream.

Set goals. Dig deep. Find your purpose. Find your passions. Pray about it all. And watch God work.

Evil won't win.

Sometimes I would get so discouraged watching how people could be so disrespectful and rude. Just remember: evil doesn't win. As Christians, our victory is already sure. Keep doing the right thing because you will reap it.

Tell your story.

This is probably the longest blog post in the history of blog posts. But I just did a presentation today at school about the importance of telling your story. Someone needs it. You need to do it. This is my story. We all have one. And we all have the responsibility to share it.

Through the rain comes the rainbow.

And now, looking back on all the nights crying, all the nights praying, all the little seemingly insignificant at the time victories, I can just think, wow. Here I am, all by the grace of God. He had a purpose through all of the pain. He heard all of my prayers and answered each one in the best way possible in His timing. And those little victories all add up, and I just smile at His faithfulness.

This is my story. My story of surviving middle school and learning to find myself, that is. And I hope it's not over yet. But if it was all over today, I'd be content with that because of the faith God has given me. I want to share that with anyone and everyone. And now I want to know . . . what's your story?

Thank you all for reading mine.... xx

What Are You Passionate About?

When's the last time you took the time to stop and reflect on what you're passionate about? Do you know how important that is?

Life is too short to not be passionate about something. Maybe more than one thing. God has designed each one of us with our own special gifts, talents, stories, dreams, passions, etc. So when's the last time you stopped to think about those?

I think it's worth a shot. No matter how old you are or where you're at in your life. Life is too short to just survive. If we know Jesus, we should be the most passionate people ever. Life is so short. Live with a purpose, and live with passion. You don't have to live your life serving God at some mundane task or live your just getting by until you're dead. Because Jesus didn't just die so that we could have eternal life, but also so that we could live an abundant life here (John 10:10) and fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19). There are so many ways to reach people, so many different types of people to reach, and so many topics to reach people on. Isn't it amazing how God gets us passionate about certain ways to reach people, and certain types of people to reach, and topics to reach them through, for His glory! He created us for good works (Ephesians 2:10), and I'm so thankful He allows us to participate in His work and gives us opportunities to do that through the things we love and are passionate about.

In fact, the passions you have were probably given to you so that you could serve God through what you're passionate about.

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I remember earlier this year I had all these passions and dreams I wanted to act on the day I got them, and you know little ole impatient me, a week (or not even, ha) goes by, and I watch other people do what I want to do, and I think about all my dreams I haven't gotten to fulfill yet or the passions I have that I can't act on yet, and I get discouraged. I get discouraged quickly. And then I go right into doubts. Are these some OBSESSIONS I have that I'll just grow out of? Am I doing this just because other people are? How can I know if God is calling me to do something or it's just all in my head?

Then I saw this quote. When I saw it, it was like something clicked inside of me. And I knew that the things people would consider an obsession, the things that were always on my mind, the things that made me want to pray about over and over, the things that got me fired up whenever I talked or wrote about them. . . . None of those were by accident. Especially if they can all be used to give God the glory. (I say this because one time I talked about how your dreams and passions must align with God's will, and I used stripping as an example of something that would NOT be. So, people, I'm trusting you have discernment, and I'm also trusting that if the Holy Spirit lives in you, I know you will not have desires like stripping, because He will put desires in you that give God the glory. But just so we're clear on that. . . .)

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When something will lead you closer to God . . . lead other people to God . . . will give Him glory . . . and won't go away . . . but instead will keep coming back and give you a reason to get up, to be excited, and to keep praying over it . . . ? There's a very good chance you've just found your passion.

Serving God doesn't have to be boring, and it shouldn't be. He's given each of us our own personalities for a reason, because He has good plans for us to give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). You can serve Him through your passions!

Oh, and here's that quote before I get going on a rant about my passion for having passions: "The things you are passionate about aren't random they are your calling."

Amen! Those things that get you excited and fired up and yearning to do something about . . . those things that can glorify God that He has laid on your heart . . . don't ever think those are random. God has laid them on your heart for a reason. Just because you can't act on them yet doesn't mean you won't ever be able to *note to self*.

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So what if you don't know how to determine your passions? It is really so simple. Don't make it complicated. Don't think about how logical or reasonable your passions are. Just be honest about what they are, what you feel God is laying on your heart, and pray over them until He removes them and replaces them with something better or leads you to do something with those passions. Don't ever give up on His timing *ANOTHER NOTE TO SELF*. Don't give up on your passions. Keep leaving them in God's hands. He cares about them.

To find out what you are passionate about, simply type on a new document or write on a new sheet of paper your answers to questions like these. . . .

What gives me purpose?

What do I love to talk about? (If you don't know, ask other people. I'm sure they will say there's always something you can't seem to shut up about.)

What are my hobbies?

What messages do I love to share?

How do I like to encourage people?

What are my favorite verses in the Bible? What are they about? What can I do to share them?

What do I love to learn about?

What would I change about the world?

What do others say I'm obsessed with?

What can I relate to?

You get the idea. Make a list. And then pray about each thing on that list. If you want some ideas, here's a list I just made. . . . I'll also add some details to a few to share how I learned I was passionate about these things, so maybe they will help you too. Share your list of passions with me, too!

I am passionate about...

writing stories // I simply couldn't stop writing stories. I love writing them.

telling stories //

sharing my personal stories //

sharing what I’ve learned about life //

being completely real and authentic // I've had to deal with a lot of problems in my life, and I've seen what can happen when somebody pretends their life is perfect and covers up the bad. Pain must be addressed, I learned that through my life, and it is only when we admit that we have pain and sin that we can ever heal from it. So since I've learned this, I'm passionate about other people learning this.

learning about suffering and the problems in our world // I get so upset when people are ignorant about how good they've got it, or they pay no attention to hurts other people have. I became passionate about this because of that.

learning about hope //

connecting with people //

encouraging people, especially people who have no hope //

prison ministry // A lot of people at my church do prison ministry, and their passion for it is contagious. I always thought they were what started my passion, and though they definitely fueled it, they actually weren't what started it. I read a local story about a crime that had horrendous effects, and it broke my heart. Ever since then I've been passionate to help people who appear too far gone and see beauty come from terrible situations. I've learned that if you think prisoners are too far gone to be saved or too far gone for anything good to come of their life, then you don't know God very well.

acting out your convictions and sharing them with others // I've always, always, always been passionate about being a light. It's just something that came to me. What is the point in having convictions if you don't live by them and share them? This passion also grew deeper as I got interested in prison ministry because so many people know what's right and think all these prisoners have done so much wrong, and I'm like, great, I'm glad you know what they did was wrong, but is that seriously all you're going to do? Whine about how people sin and yet do nothing to help people correct their lifestyles?

standing by your values //

unconditional love //

forgiving people // I saw a situation where forgiveness wasn't offered, and I saw a situation where forgiveness was offered. They were both about crimes, and they both took place at a sentencing hearing. The one with forgiveness offered made me cry and had such an amazing impact on this man's life (now he testifies about forgiveness and shares what happened at his sentencing all the time to share God's grace and mercy). The one with no forgiveness made me cry also, but only for bad reasons. It was ugly. It was depressing. And I don't even want to know what effects it will have on this person's life, even though yes, they are guilty. Hence the desire to go into prison ministry all the more. That is where multiple passions can even come from one passion, too. I've just seen how ugly not forgiving is. No hope ever comes from not forgiving somebody.

focusing on the big picture // I've learned life is too short to worry about things that don't matter in the end. Lots of your passions can come from what you've learned and wished others would.

living life with purpose //

remembering //

the importance of family //

miracles //

understanding people (psychology) // This is so interesting to me, and I love learning about it.

rehabilitating people (counseling) //

appreciating the little things //

setting goals // I've always loved to set goals; it's been so fun for me.

dreaming big and live your life in light of those dreams //

connecting with people via the internet // Also something I love to do. Lots of your passions will probably come from hobbies and what you've learned.

That's just a short (ha, I promise it actually is) list of my passions. And I want to know: what are you passionate about?

Life is short. Live for God. Live with passion for Him and His people. There's no greater joy than that. And . . . it's never too late to start living with passion and dreams again. As long as you're still alive, God is still fulfilling His {good} plan for you.

<3 Ashlee

5 Big Tips for Getting More Blog Readers

Let's face it: blog readers are something we all want. It's important, though, to humble yourself and wait for God's timing. However, I can understand wanting some tips to help you grow your blog and reach more people. Today, Brooke from Live the Prep Life is going to be sharing five {important} tips she's learned!

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Sometimes, it can be very hard to gain readers, especially when you're new to blogging, and you're just figuring everything out. Luckily, today I have some tips for you to help gain readers that will love your blog and keep coming back to it!

Be authentic

I know this is such an obvious tip, and everyone says it, but this is honestly one of the most important parts of blogging. People can tell when you're being fake and fluffy, and that is the perfect way to get them to never visit your blog again. Don't make things up, don't lie, and write about what is true to you. Not only will your writing be better if you're writing about things you truly love, but people who love the same things as you will be truly interested in what you have to say.


What I learned about getting real through a movie: What God Showed Me Through a Worldly Movie


Post good quality

Don't just spontaneously publish random things with blurry pictures and only a few sentences. Make sure you take a few hours to sit down and write a good post that people will want to read. Make it have a purpose. Make sure it is clear and understandable. Ask yourself: would I want to read this? Would I want to share this? If the answer is no, you need to revise and edit some more.

Be friendly

Nobody wants to read a blog if the author's not friendly. There are so many ways to engage with other people whether they be readers or fellow bloggers. You can share other bloggers' posts, collaborate with them, and participate in link ups to engage with bloggers. Don't forget to engage with your readers too, though! I always like to leave a question at the end of my posts to give a prompt for the reader to leave a comment. Whenever someone leaves a comment on my blog or Instagram, I always reply to them. While it may seem like a small thing to do, it's very crucial to the growth of your blog!

Share your posts

If you follow the first three steps, and you write a good post that has a purpose and meaning, you want other people to read it, right? Then you have to share it! I always pin all of the images on my post to Pinterest, and I will tweet the post a few times throughout the day. Often, I will post a picture on Instagram that goes along with the topic I'm blogging about. Then, a few weeks later, I might go and tweet that post again, so it can be seen again by new followers or people who might have overlooked that post before. Sharing through all of these ways allows other people to find your posts and possibly share them too.

Make your website clean and aesthetically pleasing

This is one of the biggest turn-offs for me personally. If your website is full of clutter, has a million and one things going on, and has literally every color of the rainbow as the background, I'm going to close that tab. But if your website is inviting and clean, I'll stick around and read a few posts. Make sure your design reflects your personality, too. If you're a very bright and bubbly person and the purpose of your blog is to spread inspiration and positivity, you don't want your website to look very dull and depressing. That sends mixed signals, which can be confusing and will make a potential reader want to leave.

What are your tips for gaining readers?

Brooke is a Dallas teen with a love for writing, photography, and fashion. When she's not blogging, she loves to play soccer, shop, and explore the places around her. You can find her over at Live The Prep Life!

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