Head over Heart

I don't know if I've ever been one to just follow my heart, a common cliche line that this society loves. This Bible verse alone should make you hesitant on following that advice:

The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?
— Jeremiah 17:9 NIV
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Lots of people just rush into decisions based on the spur of the moment. They use quotes such as "live for the moment," "you only live once," and "no regrets" to justify it. Well, yes, you only live once, so I would advise you not to live like an idiot or else you WILL have regrets.

I was having a conversation with my grandma the other day about love. As I'm writing my new book, one of the themes it looks at is just that, specifically in a dating relationship. Something that I notice a lot of people doing, especially kids my age, is rushing to be in a relationship with someone when they're not ready for it. They only think they are because their brain is clouded by hormones, fuzzy feelings, and everything else. And they say it's just part of having fun or being in love. I'm not trying to undermine being in love, but there's a smart way to do it, too, without having to compromise your brain, something I don't ever think you should do because the heart and what it wants is fickle.

Sometimes it's difficult to make the right choice but always worth it in the long run. People have to think about who they fall in love with in an analytical manner—sure, doesn't sound very romantic, but hating each other down the road ten years because you were blind to their obvious faults isn't romantic either. Same with a job or any opportunities or activities people do. We've gotten so caught up into this heat of the moment mentality, and then you wonder why so many people can't make good decisions to save their life. More thinking needs to go into it.

There of course comes a point where you can think too much. I definitely lean more on that side, being the overthinker I am. Because nothing is going to be perfect in life, so you just have to do the best you can, always consulting God for His wisdom. I just read a few chapters of Proverbs today, and that was what it talked about: the importance and value of wisdom. I can't stand it when people degrade wisdom, especially based on age. They say that wisdom or maturity can come later, when you're older, and that when you're young you should just be wild and free and all that crap.

That right there shows the value of wisdom so that you can call stupid advice when you see it, which that is. Seriously? Just WAIT to learn what is right and good so that you don't have to end the fun, that's what they want. But God is not about ending your fun; He cares first and foremost about caring for you and making you righteous because only then will you prosper in life (Proverbs 2:7-8).

Yeah, you might have to sacrifice some things. You might have to sacrifice a fun party. Or a cute guy. Or an opportunity that comes at the wrong time.

But look at the big picture, the consequences of rushing into things without thinking. Would you rather have the fun now and have the rest of your life be hell or go through some tough periods of waiting and reap the rewards?

God is faithful, and He blesses His people for doing the right thing. So I challenge people—regardless of how young or old they are—to actually THINK about the choices you make. I hear people complain about their behavior and wanting to throw in the towel because they just can't seem to change, and you know why that is? When you look at them, they never seem to actually stop and reflect on what they're doing. They live by sudden urges and emotions without fear of God. That's not how we're intended to live, though.

Use your head first to consult God and think over the right decisions in life. Your heart can catch up—which, coincidentally, it always seems to when you make the choices that honor God. I hear people who are trying to justify sin but deep down there's this unsettling feeling in them that they're trying to battle in their attempts to excuse it. And I just want to say, you know what, there's a reason it hurts. Sin should never be justified; it will always stay in your heart and hurt it in the long run, after the pleasure dissipates as quickly as it came. Coincidence? I think not.

We can't and aren't meant to live off of our emotions, chasing finite pleasures. Fix your mind on something greater—living for Jesus—because trust me, your heart WILL catch up (2 Corinthians 4:18).

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An Honest Post: Me and My Thought Life

Whenever I do a blog post specifically titled "An Honest Post," it's probably really personal to me. I mean, ALL of my blog posts are personal and honest; I make sure to keep them that way, but there are some topics that even I feel more hesitant to talk about, or I just need a disclaimer to be completely real and raw because some things aren't the easiest to talk about, even if I want to. I've done one other post with this title, about my honest thoughts over what I'm like in school. Read it here. That was in SIXTH GRADE, people!!! It's just crazy to think that after this week freshman year is already done. And get ready for an honest post over that, too. ;)

But I do remember coming up with that title for that first post because I knew that really going deeply into my personal issues, such as feeling alone at school, may not be the easiest thing to write about on the internet. I had a lot of doubts because I didn't want people to worry about me or think I needed help, and I didn't want them to think that this had turned into my diary where all I do is whine about my problems. Because that is never my intent with this blog. Rather, the reason I ultimately decided to post those thoughts is because I thought that maybe they could resonate with someone, and I wanted to share how God had worked through that for me.

So nothing has really changed in that sense, this post will be along the same lines. Except this time instead of talking about feeling lonely at school, I'm going to go even deeper and tell you about my thought life! Haha as if you want to know :) No but really, I have learned a lot, even though it feels like I haven't. Dealing with the mind is complicated, which is why I want to pursue psychology, but it's necessary because almost everything is dictated by it.

I mentioned in my post about taking a break from social media here how I didn't like my thought life. That was the summer after eighth grade, and that whole year, really, had been a struggle for me. Don't get me wrong, I had some really special memories also, and in terms of how school goes it was actually one of my favorite years, but just mentally, it was like I couldn't get a grip on my thoughts. I began to keep a journal so that I could document my craziness of one day being completely depressed and the next day as I try to regroup and reflect on everything. My thoughts were just a mess. I had experienced deep sadness before, but what I was even thinking about the other day, was that it seemed like my rebound rate was higher. Like I could sort of just come out of it faster. But then as I got older, these started turning into patterns. And what I've learned about the mind is that once you form a certain way of thinking, it's really difficult to simply break that pattern. Because against my best interests, that's what started happening to me. It just became a pattern. Even when every part of me knew intellectually the truth, it was hard for my heart to accept it because I was so stuck in the ways of thinking.

**Just a note before I go into this: even though I've felt depressed before and it's felt pretty crippling at times, I still wouldn't say I have literal depression. Some people have it way worse than me, where they literally have chemical imbalances, and of course I would advocate for them to get help just like I did here in my post on anxiety. And as always, this isn't professional advice, this is just my thoughts and observations on my personal journey of battling with depressing thoughts. I don't need help or to talk to anyone; I have people that I can talk to and go to if I need it. I've gotten to the point where I think I'm doing much better, and I feel confident about writing this.

Anyway, so I've mentioned that I'm seriously getting into psychology. So the more I got to be thinking about this, I sort of tried to self-diagnose myself. It wasn't like my intellectual ability was skewed when it came to these thoughts. I knew perfectly well what was the truth, and even though I had these thoughts, they never interfered with my life in the sense that I couldn't function properly. I mean, I was crying, like every other night, but even that I had some control over, because it wasn't like I would be sitting in class and just start crying. I always did it in privacy somewhere, and then I would talk to somebody. And don't freak out if this sounds new to you, because at first I did too, thinking that I was literally depressed. But then I would hear other stories about girls, and the more I thought about it I was like, okay, maybe this is just a teenage girl phenomenon. :) And again, I'm not trying to undermine the severity of sadness, but I feel like I can do that to myself because I know I don't literally have severe depression. If I took a quiz about it or something, maybe I would have mild depression. But I also believe that some of it is inevitable, and it doesn't mean you can't function and need to freak out about it. But I'll talk more about that in the future.

Anyway, so I started tracing back to the past. I started looking for where this curve was, where it switched from being some deep sadness that could be resolved the next day to always feeling this sort of longing and emptiness that was followed by a pretty jaded attitude. And then I realized that the curve honestly came around when I turned 13. :)

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Honestly, though, I do think hormones play a huge factor in this. That was when I began getting my wonderful monthly gifts, so that's always fun to deal with. And I've read stories from Christians I respect who look back on their childhood and are like, oh, that year I think I cried every single day, because you're an adolescent and that's just how it goes. :) But it was still difficult for me to cope with after awhile, which is why, ultimately, I'm writing this, is to share how, FINALLY, I'm learning to control my thoughts once again. This is going to be a long post, I apologize in advance... ;) And also, sometimes I like to blog these types of posts even for myself, for two reasons: 1) writing is SO therapeutic, but don't worry, I'll save the deep rants for my diaries, and 2) it really is assuring to look back in time at how I thought. Some of that is actually what has helped me with this. I can look back and see, oh yeah I was crazy then, too, so this isn't anything new. ;) Haha but seriously, it really does help. God can teach me things that you subconsciously begin to forget over the years, so going back and looking is a great way to refresh and remember that you can get through hard times.

So, I turned 13. My birthday is in February, so that would be maybe about halfway through the school year, or maybe a little more than halfway, I'm not entirely sure. At that time, I was in seventh grade, and if you read my post here on my middle school years, I went into my thoughts on seventh grade... Essentially, seventh grade was my worst year in middle school. Once again, academically it was fine, I even remember some of the projects I had that I enjoyed, and really, I did have some good memories made with some friends over the course of the year. But towards the end of the year, things really got bad, because I lost a lot of friends, and suddenly I wasn't just feeling lonely, I was lonely. I'd always felt lonely, clear back to the beginning of sixth grade, and I had some really good friends. But I just craved this deeper connection, especially with my faith, that I didn't get with anyone. But suddenly when I lost my friends altogether, I felt lonely, and then I was lonely. I hardly had anyone, and that was a struggle.

There was also a ton of guilt that went with it. I started wondering about myself and having doubts, thinking things like, what did I do to cause that, and maybe I should've been more this and less that, etc. You start to wonder what it is that you're doing wrong. That hurt me, too. I began to think that maybe I was just unlikable and insatiable, where nobody would be "good enough" for me. And I tried my absolute hardest to be loyal, to be the friend that I wanted. I know I didn't do it perfectly; I could still get sucked into drama, things that I look back on now and ask myself what the heck I was thinking. But then, that's life, and that's middle school.

I wrote about this struggle here towards the end of that year. But I think that's where it all started. Life is hard when you don't have any good friends. Thankfully, I had my family, which definitely made up for a lot of it, but there's still that gap there, and then it made me really anxious because I kept thinking, maybe I'll never have friends, and it won't get better, and I'll be alone my whole life. But I know that's not true. I've made some really special connections with teachers, and I met this wonderful girl who's a couple years older than me, who really took me under her wing and was there for me through all of eighth grade and even into freshman year. I seriously don't know where I would've been without her and the teachers that God put into my life; it would've been an even longer year. And plus, it also made me feel a little bit better to know that I was capable of having human connections, haha. :) I wasn't turning anti-social just yet. ;)

That happened near the end of fall during my eighth grade year. But during the summertime of 2016, I think that's really where it all began. I was able to trace back my anxiety, also, when I was dealing with that, and sort of self-diagnose that, too, and I think that's really important. I remember looking back at years where I felt pretty stable emotionally, and I would go and make lists of the things I did during that year that could've contributed to that. It was just a way for me to kind of help think about what I could be doing differently, and it did help me.

Anyway, summer 2016. The beginning of it was pretty great; we went to Canada for the first time, which was a blast. (Oh, but this year they're going for the THIRD time in a row, and I refused to. The second time kind of killed me; I figured out pretty quickly that fishing all day wasn't really going to cut it for me, so I'm going to MY happy place instead.) After that, though, it seemed like it just went downhill. Circumstantially, nothing had really happened. But my thought life? Yeah... I blogged really in depth about it here as well as what I learned from it. I just started feeling down about everything. The country, people, morals, school, everything. And it was like I couldn't pull myself out of it; I just became obsessed with it. Which I learned is a big mistake. I become obsessed with things pretty easily. I don't like to admit that, because some of those things I am actually passionate about, and hearing that it's an obsession doesn't make you feel very good. But then again, when you're getting to the point where you're depressed about it, you probably should put some boundaries on it.

And, finally, I'm learning and reflecting on ways to do just that, which I'll go over.

But I'll tell you what happened first. I became interested in a lot of different things. One of those that I talked about in this post here was prison ministry and how it was something I wanted to go into. I won't say it was a phase because it wasn't; I still have that desire and feel passionate about that. But going more deeper, I think it was just this overarching goal to help people and make a difference. That wasn't a phase either; I still definitely have that. But I think it was a lot more intense then, where I would get so impatient and frustrated that I couldn't do anything. Then that just sort of morphed into an obsession, and whenever I heard of anyone doing anything I would get jealous and cynical that I would never do anything. That lasted all the way through eighth grade; I wanted to do things and just couldn't because of age or because the timing was off, my absolute favorite. Not. I was impatient then, and I'm still impatient, so I wouldn't be expecting any posts on how to deal with that anytime soon! You guys should be writing those for ME, haha. All mine would have is cry and throw a fit, maybe you'll get your way, maybe you won't. Sometimes I did, but lots of times I didn't. ;)

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So that, I think, is a summary of how I got to where I was. Again, I blogged more in depth about things I learned during eighth grade in this post. Looking back on my journals, those were the things that kept coming back, as well as a couple other personal things, too. The thing that I noticed is that these weren't any new feelings I had. I was feeling lonely in eighth grade, but I can also remember the night before school started in sixth grade, I basically threw a huge pity party and cried to my mom about the popular girls and how much I couldn't stand them and how great their lives seemed to be, blah blah blah. But yet, I didn't turn depressed or get cynical then. So I began to wonder, what changed? ALL of the things that I said had worried me or made me sad, none of them were new. In fact, there were times where they were actually worse, and I coped way better. So what changed?

I started investigating that, and I started taking note of the things you should do to be mentally healthy. Things that tap into each level of who we are as people, like the physical sides of us, and the intellectual, spiritual, etc. There are a lot of great Christian resources out there that my mom shares with me and that I find, too. Ha, if there was one thing I remember doing in eighth grade practically every night was stay up until eleven, twelve, one just reading on my phone, on these Christian blogs where I would go to their topics, find what I was interested in, and there you go, read about it until my eyes are dead. No seriously, my eyes are a mess now and that's probably why. It was the first year I didn't have to follow any time-to-go-to-bed-now rules; I could when I wanted to. Clearly I handled that responsibly, haha.

But really, when I thought about it, there wasn't anything I had done differently or that I had stopped doing. Physically, they say exercise is great for you. I still walked my dog, though not as much, but I also ran a lot during the summer because of cross country. I did cross country during my eighth grade year again, and you can read about how fun that was here. Spiritually, I was actually doing more than I ever had to be close to God: we had found a new church with inspiring classes, I bought a study Bible that was helping me understand the Bible more deeply, and obviously I was READING tons of articles at night haha. So I started realizing that there wasn't a lot that had changed, but I had changed.

I had let the temporary times of being down turn into patterns. I let them fester and let myself grow bitter and cynical, something I wanted to remain committed not to do, as I talked about a long time ago in this post over basketball. Patterns of thinking, really, are what make or break you. I was telling my mom, you know, some sadness and feeling down, that's just normal and inevitable. There are going to be times where I cry and vent about popular girls, or feeling lonely, or because I'm sick of waiting, haha, and that's normal and bound to happen. The problem began when I started making these patterns, when I stopped chasing the light, stopped chasing God for my joy, and instead was bound and determined to seal off the pain by hardening my heart, essentially. Then it became a pattern, and that's what killed it. It's hard to break patterns of thinking. That's why so many people are messed up and why you can't just sweep in and save their life. That takes TIME. It takes God time to break down those walls that people build, to abolish those patterns.

But I'm tired of living with mine. I realize now more than ever that it seriously is a choice. I got so weary of going back and forth, of one day we're high, but tomorrow we'll be low. And I'm realizing that if I don't want to think that way anymore, I have to surrender to God. I can't keep shutting Him out, thinking that these petty things I'll keep for myself. Yeah, I might feel awkward telling God some of the REALLY petty things that bother me, but that's what got me into this mess. Because I don't tell Him, and so then I keep them to myself, and I obsess over them, and they keep festering, and then before you know it, that's a pattern of thinking that gets exhausting and out of control.

But guess what? If you get yourself IN to one of those patterns, you can get yourself out. Maybe not on your own. Probably, definitely not on your own. You'll need God's help, for He's the only one who can fix a mind that's broken. I never understood why the Bible said to take each thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5). I mean, I tried to obey it, but sometimes I really didn't know why it mattered, why each thought I had was such a big deal.

Ha. I completely get it now. Our thoughts are literally everything; how you think is for sure going to determine how you act. You know that quote that everyone probably thinks is cheesy, over watching your thoughts because they determine your character? Yeah, well, it is so true.

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When I was getting into prison ministry, that was actually kind of a beginning for my interest in psychology, but I didn't know that until later. Because I always wondered why some people behave so badly, or what motivates them to choose to commit a crime. That all leads back to the mind. It starts there, ends there. It's just like when the Bible warns about not hating someone because that's the same as murder (1 John 3:15). You might say, oh get a grip, how can hating someone be the same as actually committing murder?

Well, how do you think murderers make their decision to carry out their crime? Do you think they just wake up one day and say hey I think I'll go kill that person? Usually not. Now I know a lot of them do have some legit mental illnesses, but not all of them do.

For a lot of them, that's how it starts. It starts off by hating someone. And that hatred and anger, when left unchecked, continues to grow and fester—it becomes a pattern of thinking. And ultimately it consumes you, and then you act on it. It's the same with lust, too—the Bible says lusting after someone is the same as adultery. It's true. Adultery doesn't just happen—it starts with a thought. And what you do with that thought is up to you, but let it become a pattern and consume you...it might not be good.

And this doesn't ever mean you don't have bad thoughts. Of course we will; we're human, emotions are a part of our life. But this is why it's dangerous to let them go unchecked. It really IS a big deal, because big screw ups don't just happen. They start off with the little things. That's why I'm so passionate about having good morals, because if we can't have good morals in the little things, what makes us think we can have good morals in the big things? How you handle the little things ultimately is what defines your character.

But about getting out of these patterns, and about what I've learned through all of this. First of all, renewing your mind is absolutely essential. And making sure you're being renewed on all levels—not ONLY spiritual—is something that I think sometimes Christians can forget. Being spiritually renewed is critical, but we're also physical, intellectual, emotional beings, so you can't let those things go, or else you might feel down, and it may have nothing to do with you being distanced from God. I've also learned that going to Him is essential—don't hide things. Even the bad things that fill you with shame. Seriously, God knows it anyway, whether or not you tell Him. And He wants to hear it from you, that's how you have a relationship. That's how you get your mind renewed. It's incredibly hard to hate someone when you're praying, especially when you're praying FOR THEM. Why? Because God is not going to let you hate them. Not when your mind is on Him, and you're filled with His love.

This morning, I was feeling cynical again, just bashing people and not really caring. Yeah, what happened to my lovey-dovey blog posts about unconditional love? They became nonexistent in my mind when I let these thoughts go.

I think that's what really killed my mental health, is the cynicalness. Because I've been sad before and deeply down because of the reality of life, but the thing was, I always had hope, so it wasn't crippling (to see more on what I mean: read this post). It was more of a pure sadness for our world and longing for Jesus, whereas this sadness, without hope, turned ugly and selfish easily. Then it was about me being a victim, which is something I never try to be. I have more of a realist personality; I always have. I don't spout cliche lines just for the sake of being positive, so if I'm feeling sad, I will not try to fake it. But I also had a legitimate, authentic knowledge of the hope through Jesus, so I was fine. But take that hope away, and you're headed on a downward spiral.

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Now, as I'm completing this on June 6 and actually am a sophomore now and have published my reflections on freshman year, this is the biggest thing I learned, or maybe relearned. And I praise God I did because I don't want to fall into that gloomy way of thinking again. I remember praying, on the morning I began this blog post, for God just to work a miracle in my mind. I didn't know what to say other than that; I just knew that my down, grumpy thoughts were out of control. I didn't know how to fix it, so finally I just asked Him to. And then, as I'm going through the day, the bones of this post just came to me, and it poured out. I'm so thankful for His patience with me and what He's taught me about this.

It's like I said from what He showed me clear back in fifth and sixth grade: pain doesn't last forever. And there's always hope through it, so never, ever lose sight of that.

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Morality Isn't Emphasized Enough

You know, there's definitely a trend that I keep seeing among a lot of various Christians. And the more I think about it, I don't know if I like it.

It's not that I necessarily disagree with it, but I just feel like it's almost sending another message that isn't good. And what I'm talking about is when Christians say to stop focusing on our behavior, that is, our "works," and just instead focus more on God loving us.

Okay. I'm not going to come out and disagree with that. In fact, me, being a relentless perfectionist, sometimes needs to hear that I do need to stop trying so hard and just learn to accept God's love for who I am.

However. There are a lot of people who, and I'm just going to say it bluntly, aren't able to handle a message like the one above because they aren't mature enough. Because what those people will do, is they will take that as their little "pass" to do whatever the heck they want, and then at the end of the day, be like, "hey I'm a Christian and God loves me so don't judge me." And it makes my blood BOIL. They could be doing EVERYTHING contrary to Scripture and completely not giving a dang, but yet they still pull that card and, essentially, take complete advantage of the love of God. And I'm sick of that, sorry not sorry. My patience is running thin with people's complete moral laziness—which is what it is.

And before you start yelling at me, accusing me of being self-righteous and judgmental, I will say this: I am in no way trying to undermine the love of God. Believe me, I need just as much grace as anybody. However, there is a complete difference between people who know they need grace and do their best everyday to study their Bible, to live by what they know and take it to heart, and then ask God for forgiveness in ways they fall, and then there's people who completely don't care about the Bible and just pin random Christian quotes when they feel like it and pretend they're a true Christian, and you know what, their life, their morals and values and convictions, show UTTERLY OTHERWISE. And that has to stop, it really does. And it's not like it's a HARD thing to do, to develop good behavior and good morals. It simply requires your willingness to develop those things.

This generation seems to believe that we can figure this out later, that life is all about having fun, and wisdom can come later when you're an adult. Guess what? I have talked to so many adults and teachers, and there's a common theme I hear with them: they all tell me they did stupid things when they were young, that they wish they could've done differently. BUT, they also say that had it not been for those screw ups, they also probably wouldn't be where they are.

So this little quote that everyone spouts, about throwing away all your inhibitions and just living with no regrets, is so incredibly stupid. That's when you'll live with the MOST regrets. I go to school and watch people make such stupid choices every day, because they think it's fun, they're just young and free, right?

No. You're never too young to do the right thing, to develop your convictions. That's what I've learned from chatting with those adults. It's their convictions that were missing, and then they finally find them, when they're into their thirties and beyond and have fallen flat on their face due to poor choices. And don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to be mean to those people. I'm sincerely thankful for their realization of that and their maturing enough to know that your bad choices can lead you to learn good. But then again, isn't it better to develop good morals NOW than live with regrets as an adult? All of our actions have life-long consequences, AND THAT IS NOT EMPHASIZED ENOUGH by Christians. We've made it all lovey-dovey: just do what you want because your works mean nothing to God anyway, and He loves you anyway.

WRONG. Even though God WILL love you no matter what, do you honestly think you're going to have a relationship with Him when you are doing absolutely nothing through your actions to live for Him? Sorry not sorry, but the quickest way to see what someone is passionate about and who they stand for is through their actions, and so if you tell me you're a Christian, but I would never know that by looking at your life, that's a problem. Because your actions DO mean a lot to God. No, they don't get you into heaven, but your action in believing in Him and repenting to Him does. And do you know what repenting means? It means that not only do you say that you're sorry for something, but you also are acknowledging that you don't want to do it anymore. So saying that you're sorry for partying last night when you're going to do it again tomorrow is ridiculous, in complete opposition to repentance. That, of course, does not mean that just because you apologize for something means you'll never do it again. Because you will; we're human, we sin. BUT IT MEANS THAT YOU DO NOT WANT TO DO IT AGAIN. It's not this carelessness, like thinking that it doesn't matter if I do it again because God will forgive me. No, it does matter.

God IS going to judge us BASED ON OUR ACTIONS ONE DAY (Romans 14:12). And your actions in this life DO determine your success. I have seen some of the wealthiest, seemingly most successful people engage in lives of sin behind the scenes and guess what, that crap doesn't fly forever. They get caught eventually. And don't even get me started on the mental turmoil that living in the wrong does to you.

Also, I'm a teenager, for goodness sake, so you think I would be advocating for no rules, no moral restrictions, and just complete freedom to do whatever the heck I want, right? No. Because I have seen too many kids my age who live like that, and I've HEARD of so many people who lived like that as kids, and guess what? It does them an INJUSTICE. Because then when their fun and games has ended, guess what follows? This thing called natural consequences. So no, I don't think you can stress this enough amongst teenagers. In fact, more than academic ability or anything, what I believe teenagers need to hear the most is the importance of developing good convictions and morals. THAT is how God uses you to go far in life. Your academic ability doesn't mean a dang thing if you're a spoiled brat who does whatever you want; no, kindness, respect, perseverance, all the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), THOSE need to be emphasized. THOSE are how you tell where someone's heart is with God (Matthew 7:16).

So does God love you unconditionally? Of course He does. But He doesn't expect you to take advantage of that. Would you like someone to do that to you, to just take advantage of your patience and do a bunch of crap because they think you'll just forgive them anyway? Seriously, it's no different with God. That's called narcissism, people. Do you know how many narcissistic Christians I see? I doubt they're even Christians, because how can you be narcissistic and a Christian? The very essence of being a Christian is to be selfless. And that doesn't mean you are that way all of the time, but again, you strive to be.

If you love Him, your heart will echo that, resulting in you WANTING to know Him, resulting in you WANTING to please Him, resulting in you WANTING to develop good morals now.

And that is what needs to be emphasized more than your athletic ability, your academic ability: is your character ability. And as a Christian, especially, I'm not going to devalue that. Society needs good character now more than ever. I, personally, am done being lazy with mine. I had my lazy character days in fifth grade when all I would do is spread drama. While I know I still have so much to tackle (worry, lust, jealousy, doubt, just to name a few of mine) I'm not throwing in the towel and saying God will love me anyway if I forget about those. He will.

But I love Him. I want to please Him. I want to show my devotion towards Him through obeying Him, by having good character. Because that's how He'll use me to do good things for His glory, what I want more than anything.

So no. Good morals is not emphasized enough, and I'd like to make it my goal to advocate for it, through my writing, but more importantly, through the way I live and respond to God's love.

Ashlee Mae

Reflecting on My Favorite Quotes {Anxiety}

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My dog and I enjoying the nice weather

The weather has finally been beautiful here in Iowa, much to my liking. I'm definitely a summer person, so if this becomes a trend where it's going to keep being cold for the vast majority of the year, I may or may not be moving to Arizona or Florida...

Before I deleted my Pinterest account, I saved quite a few quotes to my computer over various topics. Naturally, when my struggles with anxiety started intensifying over the summer, one of the things I did was go on Pinterest and look for any quotes that might be able to help me or just show me that the way I was feeling wasn't uncommon. And I did find a lot of great ones, ones that really do go along with God's command not to worry.

Without pasting the quotes on here word for word, I'll try to summarize what they were about, their message, essentially, and what I took from it. I'm very picky about the quotes I find and save that aren't directly from the Bible, because if you've never read this post before, it's where I go on Pinterest and find a bunch of common quotes that I disagree with. I might do one of those posts again if that would be of interest to anyone. ;)

I wouldn't just go along with any quote or live by any quote, as again, they're man made and don't always align with what God says. But a lot of these quotes don't go against His Word, or they're similar to things my Christian therapist told me when I had to go see one a couple times for anxiety. I have gotten a little better with managing anxiety, but trust me, I still have it. It's a comfort, though, to be able to stop and reflect on some of these quotes, to help put it in perspective. So here are some of the takeaways I've gotten from quotes dealing specifically with anxiety.

**Just a disclaimer, though: obviously I'm not a therapist in any way, nor is this post a substitute for professional advice. So I do encourage you, that if your anxiety is unbearable, PLEASE go talk to someone. I actually did have to go talk to someone for awhile, and I was worried about how awkward it would be and if it would help, but it did. I'm not saying it wasn't awkward at times, but please trust me on this, guys: asking for help doesn't always feel good, but it will help YOU in the long run. None of us can do it on our own, and you would be surprised at how many people fight these battles without telling anyone. Don't be that person who's drowning in their pain all alone—reach out to someone. Most people want to help, really.

1. It is only temporary.

One of the quotes I found most assuring and, honestly, probably what has helped me most when dealing with anxious thoughts, is to know that they are temporary. The anxious moods don't last forever. I have days where I could just have this perfect peace about something, and then I have days where I feel like I could vomit because of how worried I am. And it's very uncomfortable when dealing with those thoughts that feel like they are literally strangling you until you come up with a solution, but of course the thing with anxiety is that you can't ever come up with a good enough solution because worry just keeps coming even to practical solutions. So that's why I found that so important, to just know they'll go away.

Something about me, personally, is that whenever I get this thought of a situation that makes me anxious, I always think I have to have an internal solution for it right away. Like if this happens, what will I do? And that's where my anxiety comes from: because I don't always know what I would do, and I don't like that. But my mom has this saying, we'll cross this bridge when we get there, that used to annoy me, probably because I can't follow that advice, haha. And I also just realized that it really is pointless to play those mental games, like if this happens, what will I do. Who cares right now? There's such a thing as being planful, yes, but anxiety, of course, is beyond that. It's irrational worry. So I don't need to spend two hours torturing myself through the thoughts; sometimes it's just enough to know that, you know, these thoughts have been here before, and they'll go away again, and you'll be fine. So don't even entertain them.

It really is just the devil's attempt to shake us up. A verse that I loved and held close when I battled really anxious thoughts: James 4:7, resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

This is also why, in a strange way, part of me finds looking back on all of the times I've felt anxious before comforting. I know that sounds really weird, like how could I find comfort in remembering how anxious I used to be? But it really does, and I think it's part of that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger thing. When I look back, I remember that me feeling anxious isn't anything new, and that if I conquered it before, I can do it again.

2. Take it one day at a time.

Don't try to visualize years in advance of how things might be. That's just going to make anxiety worse. Focus on making it through, one day at a time. At the time, it might seem hard, but then looking back, you can see how it's those days you feel you can't go on that define you and make you that much more stable, if you allow them to be, meaning that you turn to God with your anxious thoughts and, even if you don't feel it, make a conscious effort to keep doing the right things, not allowing anxiety to overpower you. And again, if you need help with learning to manage it, don't hesitate to reach out to somebody that specializes in that. You don't have anything to lose by doing that, but more to gain.

3. Be conscious about where you let your mind take you.

One thing that people close to me said when I was battling anxiety—and I hated it at the time—was things like how I choose to think that way. And I do think, to a point, there's some truth to it. But then again, saying that people with legit mental illness choose to think that way can be dangerous. I don't know if anyone likes to fixate on depressing thoughts or anxious thoughts. Nobody willingly chooses those. So I think instead of focusing on NOT thinking those thoughts—I read an article that made an excellent point about how by trying not to think of something, you're actually going to think about it more—try to instead focus on redirecting your thoughts. That's a lot easier to do, I found for me. Because that we can control.

I'm a massive overthinker, which is exactly why I think my specific personality is more prone to depression and anxiety. And one quote that I loved said something about not thinking so much, or else you create problems that don't even exist. And that's what I mean by the mental games. Don't even entertain them. They're NOT worth it. Anxiety, when you think about it, is worrying about things that haven't happened. So don't let your mind think up possibilities of things that haven't happened—when you feel it heading that way, the thing that has helped me most is just to pray to God to redirect my thoughts elsewhere, and then TAKE ACTION and do something else. That's why music has helped me so much. It's a distraction from thoughts that worry me and actually helps me focus more on things I want to do, like writing. (I make music playlists for each of my books, and it's cool because I have specific songs that go with my characters, theme, etc.)

4. Anxiety does not come from God.

One of the lies I actually got stuck into believing at one of my darkest points, is that God wanted me to be feeling anxious. Nevermind the fact that He says do not fear in the Bible over 365 times; that's what I thought. I thought these ideas of bad things were coming from God, like this is going to happy, so be ready, or something like that. That's actually what led me to make the decision to go see a therapist, because of course my natural response was that, well, if God is telling me these things, then I'm not going to pray, or read my Bible, or cultivate a closer relationship with Him. And so I could see this pattern of what was happening with my relationship with Him, and I knew enough intellectually that I did not want that to happen. I knew without Him, these battles would be that much more harder. I wouldn't ever want to lose my relationship with Him, so that's why I decided to go, to get help in that area.

And of course my therapist assured me that of course fearful thoughts don't come from God (2 Timothy 1:7). Remember the verse I put up above? Worry really is the devil's tool, and I learned that. I always knew it, but now I had to really apply it to my life and not believe the lies.

5. Lastly, try to put anxiety in perspective.

One thing I did that helped me was making a list of all the things I can remember worrying about in the past, and guess what? They never happened. There is a percentage people say, about how many of the things you worry about never happen, and I know it's pretty high. And even in my own life, that's evident. One time I read this article that was trying to assure teen girls about their odds of getting breast cancer and how it literally is about the same odds as trying to win the lottery. And they made this analogy, about how when you buy a lottery ticket, you don't just buy a ticket to somewhere exotic because you just know you're going to win the big bucks. And so it goes with anxiety. Most of those irrational worries, try to be real: they're probably not going to happen. So don't waste your good days preparing for them as if they are.

Again, there's a fine line between being smart about potential situations and having excessive worries about situations that don't make sense or are not likely based on facts.

These are some of the main things I've learned from the quotes I like about coping with anxiety, and I hope they can encourage you, too. I have quotes over more subjects that I will also do reflections over in the future, so stay tuned.

Thank you for tuning in today and, again, don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it. And if you're NOT sure if you need it, it still can't hurt to ask. To be honest, I've battled worry even as a kid, and most of the things I heard in therapy I had already learned through my relationship with God or by prior knowledge of the subject. But you know what? It certainly didn't hurt me to hear those things again, and it was actually kind of assuring to know that I DID know a lot about what I needed to be doing.

Also, and this could apply to anything, not just anxiety, know that God cares about you and every part of your life (1 Peter 5:7). Don't try to hide things from Him out of shame. That could be sin you're fighting, or even anxiety you think shouldn't be there. Just going back to my battle with anxiety, I can't tell you how guilty I felt and how much I felt like a failure as a Christian. It's like, I'm dishing out at advice about letting go and letting God, and I can't even follow that myself. I think there's this unspoken assumption, which is that Christians don't get depressed or anxious, but that's actually very naive, to put it bluntly. It's almost the same as saying that Christians don't ever have to face problems in life, and we all know what a lie that is. Christians are still fallible human beings with the same emotions and struggles as anybody else.

When I would get really sad in eighth grade, I can remember this one point, I had been crying intensely to my mom, and afterwards while I was still upset, she told me to read my Bible. And intellectually I knew I needed to, so I grabbed my Bible, and I was kind of shocked at how I felt: which was completely empty. There was almost this sense of lostness that came over me, like WHERE would I even go in my Bible to possibly make me feel better? And I felt so guilty about that. I felt guilty battling anxiety, like I couldn't trust God. I wanted to, but there was so much guilt about it, because I had this expectation that if I really were trusting God with my life, I wouldn't be crying all the time, wouldn't be freaking out all the time.

The one thing, though, that my therapist told me, and I'll be forever grateful for, is that sometimes in life with faith, it's not a matter of "trying harder." And again, this can go with anything, such as fighting sin. Sometimes, it's not a matter of praying more, or reading the Bible more, or learning to trust God more. Are all of those things excellent and something I should strive to do that will help? Well, absolutely. But sometimes there's this idea that when you read the Bible, you'll always feel better. But sometimes you don't. Sometimes you can do all of those things, and you still don't feel better. And the reason? Essentially she told me: anxiety is a part of life. And like in my case, you can't blame chemical imbalances in my brain on not trying hard enough.

And, ultimately, we live in a fallen world. Doing all of the above I mentioned with anxiety or life in general is fantastic, really, it is, but don't beat yourself up if you still have anxiety or whatever else it may be. Because some of that is just part of being in a fallen world. It's the same with battling sin. We can't ever obtain perfection in this life, and so sitting here working our tails off trying to become perfect is insanity. It won't happen in a fallen world. So as long as we live in a fallen world, there is always going to be a sin we struggle with—we might do better at some points than others, but there will still always be areas of our life to improve. There will always be a sense of sadness and longing because this world isn't our home. And there will always be a sense of worry because living in a fallen world IS scary.

There are two extremes with this that you have to be careful for: you don't want to fall for the idea that you can fix all of these issues, because that's unrealistic and will end up hurting you more. But you also can't completely give up, either, and just let yourself fall into a pit of depression, sin, or anxiety. And how do you find that balance? You just do what you can every day to the best of your ability for God's glory. HE will give you the strength and the grace (2 Corinthians 12:9).

That's why sometimes when I see things that promise to help you conquer sin or conquer worry, I basically shake my head. I know those things are well meaning, but what if there's actually a dangerous message being sent behind those things? You absolutely should do your best to fight sin and worry, but getting this idea that you can completely get rid of it sets up this false expectation that you can become, essentially, perfect, and leaves you feeling incredibly guilty and worthless when you're done reading those books, and guess what? You still have times where you slip back into sinful patterns, and you still have times where you worry.

Do your best with God's help? Absolutely. That's the solution and what it all comes down to, that's why I saved the quotes I did. Because they all essentially say the same thing: acknowledge that we all have anxiety, and do your best to focus on the things of God and resist the devil. Anxious thoughts exist in our minds, and I don't know if we can ever completely get rid of them. But we do have a choice in if we want to indulge them or redirect our minds elsewhere, which we can do and can get better at by the grace of God. It all ends with Him, and one of the things that helped me most: He is more than willing to help you fight your battles, so don't go at it alone (1 Peter 5:7).

Ashlee Mae

Darkest Hour, Brightest Hope

Sometimes all the lights go out in your life.

There doesn't seem to be any hope.

Nothing can satisfy you.

Everything hurts.

The world seems hopeless.

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The pain, suffering, and brokenness of the world slaps you in the face, leaving you feeling stressed, desperate, and lost.

I've been there, done that. More than once. This is another old post, written in November 2016. Not only has God revealed to me the hope found in our sufferings, but He's also delivered me from pain, too. I'll go into that in another post, but today, since Good Friday is coming up, I want to share this post. Over seemingly hopeless situations.

There are two specific times I can remember feeling utterly hopeless about this world, and I really just had a longing for eternity with Jesus, which was then redirected into a deep desire to go tell others about Jesus, our only hope. I don't like the despair I feel in those times, but I've had to learn to appreciate that feeling because when I don't see any hope, the hope through Jesus alone shines so bright. Overwhelmingly bright. It's the best feeling in the world, a person lost in despair being flooded with the power of Jesus. When that happens to me, I want to tell anyone and everyone about Jesus, amazing Jesus.

Over the summer, I spent two weeks with my grandparents, and I love spending time with them. I love both of them so much, and we always have so much fun together. When I left, I had just come off a major high from the night before. Now of course I didn't actually get HIGH, I actually went to church and felt so inspired and joyful [read about that here]. I had just completed one of my hardest school years yet [read here], and I didn't want to have to deal with anything. No drama. No problems. No worries. I wanted my mind to be renewed, I wanted the two weeks to be full of fun and good talks, and I honestly just didn't want to have to worry about anything.

There's nothing wrong with wanting a break and wanting to renew your mind except for when you expect that break to complete you or when you expect something or someone to renew your mind. Whenever you expect anything or anyone except God to give you peace, make you happy, or provide for your needs, you're going to actually lose your mind and have even more unmet needs.

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Everything was going perfect for awhile. Mom and I had great talks on the way up to meet Gramps and Grams. This is random, but isn't it interesting that you can remember you have good talks but not even remember what they're about? The only conversation I can remember that we had was about insurance. How or why we were talking about that is beyond me. Oh! And we talked about eating and when eating becomes a sin, and is it sinful to eat a donut now? Yes, we got donuts. Multiple donuts were consumed over those two weeks. Was that sin? I don't know. I probably don't want to know. At least I did cross country . . .

Anyway, we are not talking about my eating habits because we're just not going there. Unless, of course, you want me to add to my list of problems. If so, yes, I need help. We came, we ate . . . end of story. Just like the previous summer I was with Gramps and Grams. So yay, those expectations were met! I guess some things never change.

But no, we are done talking about eating. Forever. Unless you have (a) reservations to go take me out to eat later or (b) tips on how to actually like healthy food (besides eating is a learned behavior as Mother always tells me because let me tell you, that never works). But yeah, we're done.

Back to whatever it is we're supposed to be talking about. Good talks. Donuts. Yes, what more could you want? Then we met Gramps and Grams, took pretty pictures, consumed more junk (but don't get me wrong, it was good) at McDonald's. We drove up and had great talks over all the things we were going to do. Sometimes I get to the point where I'm just never going to make plans because when I do they all fail. And sure enough, that happened. I learned things aren't going to be my way because life happens. And I was mad because these were my two weeks that needed to go well.

And they did. Because of the fun.

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But more because of what I learned.

The problems rained down over the weeks. Sometimes it felt like there was a new one each day. Most of them were just my same old, long term problems catching up with me, trying to steal my joy. And they did as Satan so perfectly targeted them at me to shake my faith.

First there was the realization that these two weeks were not going to play out perfectly like I wanted them to. Over the week I just saw complete godlessness everywhere and the flat out promotion of sin, which grieved my heart and made me desperate to renew my mind. I come to renew my mind and find it needed to be renewed even more.

Then there was persecution Christians are facing across the nation, and I thought of all the ways I've been persecuted, made fun of, and told to be quiet about my beliefs. Don't you just love it how atheists get to be so vocal about their disbelief in God, but Christians have to shut up? Once again, the promotion of sin, and heaven forbid a Christian ever calls anything sin.

I thought about drama at school and what I was going to do and how I was going to connect with people when nobody is serious about their relationship with God, and as I thought about that, I began fearing 8th grade and returning to school. Then there was all of those police shootings across the nation. I remember watching that live on the news at night, and the next day everyone went crazy on social media.

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I witnessed firsthand people in pain. So much pain.

I heard local news stories, stories once again filled with pain and darkness and the ugly consequences of sin, and that made me feel worse to know the pain other people are experiencing, and there's nothing I could do about it. I also saw how people try to cover up their pain, and I tried to cover up my pain. I thought shopping would help me to have a positive attitude. I thought hanging out with my cousins would cause me to forget my worries and pain. I thought talking with Grandma would renew my mind. And it all did.

Temporarily.

But when the fun wore off, when I turned in each night, the pain was still there. Maybe even more so. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: not addressing your pain is the worst thing you can do. Covering it up, pretending it isn't there, playing the role of somebody happy without problems when your life is really falling apart, is a foolish route to take because in no way does the pain dissipate. Pain has to be addressed, and it has to be addressed correctly.

The breaking point came when I was looking at Facebook. I was looking at some local news and just news in general with the state of our world. There was this one comment that really upset me because it was talking about this person before they made a bad choice, and I just thought about how life never goes how you plan. I'm sure the person who wrote that complimentary comment never fathomed that later bad choices would be made, destroying everything. And I thought about my own life, the plans I'd dreamed that had failed, my family, my country, sin, the persecution I was facing, school, the horrible situations unraveling in our country, disease, all the pain numerous others besides myself was carrying, my desires to reach out to people that I couldn't, local sad situations, and more finally all fell on my shoulders. And I just walked into the room Grandma and I slept in, giving up the fight, tired of holding in the pain. All of it fell down on my shoulders, and I collapsed onto the bed and began to cry.

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Every light was turned off. I began to realize nothing was going to take away this pain--hours spent in Okoboji would eventually fade and bring me right back to where I was when I left, talking to somebody wouldn't help because they didn't have any answers or solutions to my fears, sadness, and unmet needs, the things I bought made me happy until I realized like they could do anything meaningful, and these fun times could not erase the pain that would always be waiting for me when it was all said and done.

Pain needs to be addressed. I learned that.

Pain needs to be addressed properly. I learned that the hard way.

As I was laying there in my pool of tears, I told God, "Am I depressed?" That was honestly my biggest fear. Nothing would make me feel better, and so I was worried I was never going to see the light of day again. It took me looking for my happiness everywhere but God before I finally broke down to Him. So I suppose when I asked Him that, He could have been like, "Well, you've just looked for your happiness in every single thing except Me even though I've only told you a million times to find your joy in Me, and now you wonder why you are sad?"

So praise Him that God is love and doesn't say that, though He really could. He gives mercy and grace, and He showed me where my hope needs to be.

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Grandma came in. I vented all of my problems to her after I vented them to God, and she prayed with me. She did exactly what you should do when you want to encourage someone in a godly way: she listened, she showed compassion to how I was feeling, she prayed with me, and she told me Bible verses. She has a desk right by the bed, and on that bed she has many Bible verses taped to it and displayed.

That's how I found this amazing Bible verse.

As I regrouped, I scanned the verses, and one immediately caught my eye. It was printed on a small blue sheet of paper with a flower in the corner. It was from a calendar that displayed a new Bible verse each day. Grandma had torn it out and tacked it on display. And it spoke volumes to my soul, God's reminder to me amidst all of my pain.

The verse came from 1 Peter, which, ironically, was the Bible book I'd been studying at that time. It was 1 Peter 5:10, NCV.

And after you suffer for a short time, God, who gives all grace, will make everything right. He will make you strong and support you and keep you from falling.
— 1 Peter 5:10 NCV
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After you suffer: God uses sufferings for our good, to strengthen our faith (Romans 5:3, 4). Like I mentioned earlier, there is something that happens when you lose everything: you either cling to Jesus as the bread of life (John 6:35), or you look for other worldly ways to dull the pain. Whenever you have to suffer, you want hope. We all want hope--we all need it. And that is what suffering does. It has a way of revealing where your priorities really are and a way of helping you to adjust your priorities. My priorities were in God, I do believe that. But I think I was getting confident and placing too much hope in things of this world: MY dreams, MY plans, and when they all failed and the pain came rushing in, I was reminded of where my trust really needs to be. And the beautiful thing about that moment was surrendering all to God, trusting Him and Him only, not having any other desires in my heart except knowing Him and making Him known. A hope that cannot be shaken.

Who gives all grace: God will give you the grace to get through whatever He allows in your life. He works everything for the good (Romans 8:28). God gave me grace that day. He listened to my pain and cared about it (1 Peter 5:7). He did not condemn me; He reminded me of His goodness and His plan. All of the pain I was feeling, He would work for the good. I didn't know how or when, but He did know, and He wanted me to trust Him.

Will make everything right: In time, everything is going to be right. There will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain (Revelation 21:4). We will be united with Jesus (Romans 6:5).

He will make us strong. He will support us. We will not fall again.

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When the lights go out, the light of Jesus shines brightest (John 8:12). He has overcome the darkest night (1 John 2:8).

Hang in there. Your sufferings are all going to be worked out for your good. God is going to make everything right one day, and in the meantime, He will give you the grace to endure what you need to.

That was a dark night for me, but I experienced peace, the peace of God, because He has overcome (John 16:33).

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The story of what happened to Jesus, His death. The darkest story in the entire world. How upset and disappointed the disciples must have felt that day.

But also, in the end, the brightest. And they had no idea until afterwards.