A Prayer About 10th Grade

Dear Lord,

Before I go into my requests for a new school year (TOMORROW, wow—just when I think time drags, haha), I must first humble myself and allow You to work through me, and to do that, I need to pray that I would have a pure heart this year, that I wouldn't get stuck into the old mindsets I had with freshman year. I don't want to make those mistakes again. But I know You are so patient and so loving and You are with me every step of the way, so thank You, so, so much. I want to always reflect Your patience and love, so please help me to always do that. And forgive me for any unrighteous attitudes I have—I'm sure there's a lot of those lurking in my heart, which is why I wanted to especially take the time to write this out. I want to get right with You and have a healthy mindset so that You get the glory through the way I live and treat other people.

When I sat taking some notes on what especially it is I want to tell You, God, there were definitely a few topics that You laid on my heart. Four things, mainly, that I feel very compelled to pray over in regards to not just this school year but my thinking and life in general. Thank You in advance for hearing these and laying them on my heart.

I pray that no one makes me feel inferior or steals my joy and contentment.

Ever since August has began, people are already asking me all about whether I'm ready or not to go back to school. And You already know my answer to that, which is, "Not really." I've been thinking about what has caused this shift in me, God, because with ninth grade, I was so ready. I was nervous because it was high school, but I was also elated because it was high school, and I'd been waiting forever (or so You know how I always feel, ha) to begin the new chapter. But then came reality. And I began to realize that I'd done it again: set my expectations on something that they weren't supposed to be and then felt crushed when it didn't come to be.

You know I'm guilty of doing that, where I expect a certain time of my life to bring me joy or renew me. But whenever that's not You, it's not good. Only You can complete me. It's a constant reminder I need. Because I thought high school was it. That was when I was going to be completely happy. Not true. The bad news is that waiting for something to make me happy will never work. The good news is that with You I can be completely happy right now. So, this is actually something I was going to pray over with a later point, but all this being said is to say that I would be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed with how freshman year went. It wasn't any better in terms of meeting people, but I think that's also because I'm just so introverted and quiet, and plus I know what I want in life, and sometimes I find it hard to step out of that into being with people who don't share the same goals. But I do need to do that because I want to be able to connect with people for Your glory. So I pray that You will help me to be outgoing when I need to be and to have the connections that are going to help me get opportunities to shine for You.

But really, the whole point of this point I'm on is to tell You that when people asked me why I wasn't ready to go back, I usually said, I'm just not ready to see people again. You know what I mean by that, God. I often feel exhausted having to witness immature behavior that doesn't change. I know that sounds incredibly self-righteous, and I'm sorry because I don't mean it to sound that way, but it is how I feel. But what I want You to help me with is to know that even when people do things I don't agree with, I can still do the right thing. I don't have to let someone else's behavior dictate my mood. I often get discouraged—why? Well I also think that because I know You as well as I do, I often do feel the pain of weeping over others' behavior, much like You did (Luke 19:41). But I know that You work in brokenness anyway, so I want to, too. And I don't want to lose my mind doing it.

Seeing other people play social games and status games and all that drives me insane. But I don't have to let it drive me insane. I can acknowledge that it's wrong and set an example, which please help me to do, but please also help me to have Your peace, to know that You win in the end, that doing the right thing reaps a reward (Galatians 6:9). It goes way behind dumb high school drama. Life is so much more than that. So don't even let me waste time being depressed about it. I did too much of that last year, playing the victim and trying to play the games. I know better than that—I don't want to do that anymore. Help me to know my worth in You and to become confident in that, just like You taught me how to do in middle school, which I talk about here.

I pray that I don't waste time being stressed when it's not practical.

I know how You've delivered me countless times. In my prayer about eighth grade, I was so nervous about the start of the year, but a week into it when I wrote that prayer, I was once again so thankful for how You carried me through. You've done that for me every time, God. Thank You so much. I had a lot of anxiety during freshman year. And I just pray that You will take that away. Help me to know it doesn't come from You, and that through You I can focus on good things. Help me not to stress about things that aren't practical. Or about anything, period.

I pray that I don't become depressed wishing for the future, expecting my expectations to be met then.

You know this about me, God, how I easily tend to look down the line into the future, expecting my joy to come when I get to high school. When I get to college. When I get married. But the problem with that is the list is never ending...and I'll never get happy chasing things that aren't You. I know You want me to enjoy each of those things when they come, but they're never meant to take Your place. The biggest mistake I made upon entering freshman year was expecting it to be everything. It's not everything—You're everything, the bread of life (John 6:35). It's no wonder why I became so upset, when here I'd been waiting the better half of eighth grade for this year that I thought was going to be a turning point... Well, it wasn't. But You are, and that's what You've done for me this summer, is helping me to see that I can enjoy You right now. That's what You designed me to do; it's no wonder people turn into messes without You. We were never created to live without You. So please, please help me to enjoy right now. Each moment as it comes. They do come, God, because You're so faithful. Looking back, I'm filled with such a fuzzy feeling of just how many special moments You've given me that I didn't even think were significant at the time. I don't have to be in college or married or anything to have those. I just have to be walking with You. Please, always help me to do that. Joy comes through You alone and the everyday little moments of knowing You and seeing You at work. Thank You for those and most of all for giving me Yourself.

I pray that I can always live with integrity, maturity, and peace, for Your glory.

Basically, God, please let all of the fruits of the Spirit be evident in me, the ones You list in Galatians. I know I still have work to do; we're still working on patience, aren't we!! Yes. Unfortunately. No, I guess I shouldn't say unfortunately because You say it's necessary, and You're right, as You always are. And in fact You actually are teaching me things about how being patient isn't as horrible as I thought. It's unbelievable! My blog readers aren't going to believe that, God, that I actually am learning to be happy with waiting, but hey, I try to tell them You're the God of miracles. I know I obviously still haven't learned this one perfectly...but we'll get there...one day...

Anyway, I pray specifically that You help me to do the right thing. In school, I hear a lot of things, and that doesn't mean they're all right, even if a teacher is telling me them. You've taught me to consult You and look at what You say is right before anyone else; I pray You will continue to lead the way. And help me to stand up for my opinions and convictions even when they're not popular. Many times they aren't, but that just makes me more motivated to keep at them for Your glory.

I also pray You will always help me to be mature. In high school, obviously there's a ton of immaturity. Don't let me get sucked into that; I pray I will act responsibly even when nobody else does. You said that if anyone asks for wisdom, You will give it to them (James 1:5). I've asked. You've delivered. Especially through other amazing people like my mom and grandma, to name a few. Help me to apply what I've learned. I want people to know what I believe by how I live so that I can be real for Your glory. I also pray that even when I do screw up, to know that You are forgiving just as You are just, and to just get right with You and keep going again.

And I also pray that You will help me to be the calm and peaceful person in a society full of depressed, anxious, angry people. I'm not knocking anyone who experiences legit problems of those at all—because You know I've faced them myself—but sometimes I'll get a glimpse of kids being hysterical about something, or see someone who's getting so worked up over something that isn't worth it, and I get this glimpse of my own behavior: like oh, I don't want to be that way. And I know I've acted that way! I act like I'm the one losing my mind half the time, but God, I don't want to. I know You; Your peace is always with me (John 14:27). Help me to be the calm one, the one people can trust with their problems. The one who will forgive easily and not be quick to attack someone or blow up on them, but also the one who can calmly tell someone that I don't agree with what they're doing. Help me to have a grip on my emotions so that Your peace radiates through me.

I also want to thank You, God, for Your deliverance in every grade, but for also revealing to me things about a specific grade in general. There are some grades and times in life that I don't know are going to be special until they're in the past, and then I think, wow, what I would give just to have a couple more moments then. I NEVER thought I'd be feeling that way about eighth grade, God, but honestly I really do. In eighth grade, while I know I had Your joy, oftentimes I remember feeling discouraged because I wanted more, now. And I thought all these things were going to give me that, high school being one of them. And then I was so disappointed in ninth grade because I was more upset throughout that year than I was in eighth. And I realized that what changed was that when I went into eighth grade, I was in a position where I felt very helpless and out of control of what was going to happen. The year before was extremely difficult emotionally, and therefore I had absolutely no expectations for eighth grade, I was just going into it completely trusting You and knowing I was going to walk with You. And You know what? It was one of my favorite grades to date.

Did I still have times where I felt discouraged and stressed? Oh yes, but You provided—I logged all those times on my notes in my phone. Did I still get upset and cry some nights? Oh, You know I did. But it was a really beautiful year because I really, really saw You walking with me in a way that had an intensity I'd never really seen before. In fact, when outlining this blog post, I came up with some things I would go back and tell myself:

I would tell myself to chill the heck out. You have blessed me with gifts and wisdom that will eventually grow into more for Your glory, but for right now, I just need to relax and focus on developing those. I was so eager in eighth grade, God, and I still am. I have so much ambition which is a curse when I have to wait, ha, but I know You are faithful with that. I got so eager that year that I let it steal my joy many times, not realizing how special the moments were that I was in. Because looking back on them, they were. And so I would just tell myself to relax, to keep trusting You and appreciating where You had me.

I would tell myself not to think so much. To not waste the better half of years being so indecisive and perfectionistic about writing that I quit enjoying it or don’t write at all. When I did a short story for a project in my English class, that really opened up my eyes as to how special it is to just take an idea You've laid on my heart and run with it, even if I don't know where it's going. And I know I think way too much into things, and I just want to stop second guessing myself and trust that when You've put something on my heart, it has a purpose, even if I don't see that right away.

But yet I would tell myself to keep thinking. To keep learning for Your glory and keep doing my research on living with integrity and living for You. One thing I will say about eighth grade is that we had many projects we had to do that I thought really prepared us for high school and just to think deeper. I enjoyed many of those projects, even if they were intense. I looked into a lot of political subjects that helped me determine where I stand on those issues and how You play into those, because You absolutely do. I had assignments that helped me to better understand other people and the darkness of the world, that have in turn taught me lessons about having good values. Thank You for that, God. Help me to keep researching what is right, to keep thinking about other people beyond myself. 

I would tell myself to enjoy where I'm at. Because now, gone are the days of cozy, conservative middle school. I never thought I'd enjoy those, did I? But now I'm growing up, God, and realizing just what a gift those were. The key to finding contentment in life is enjoying You where I'm at, and oh what a magical year that was in terms of knowing You. I'm actually extremely frustrated with myself right now because do You remember my late night reading when every night I'd look up deep topics in the faith because I genuinely wanted to be educated on them? So there was this one topic that had me stumped for awhile, but then I stumbled across a blog post that did an awesome job of explaining it, so I screen-shotted the part I liked. Well tonight I was thinking about that topic again and wanted to find that picture, but oh no, I deleted it. WHY did I delete it?!!!! I always say I'll never delete anything because I'll regret it but then I go on another deleting spree.... Ugh anyway the point is that I got to learn so much about You, which I am so thankful for. You really are the only One who completes us; I've never felt more at peace than when I'm learning about who You are.

I learned what it meant to become independent, to see the ugly truths of the world for myself but also the authentic hope that has never shone brighter. I learned to see people as You do while at the same time shaking my head at their godlessness and learned that I can do both: condemn bad behavior but help the broken people stuck in it, just as You call me to do. And I'm going to do those things. But I just have to be patient. And I learned that it’s not as hard to be patient as I thought (gasp!), that happiness can come in each moment as I grow in my relationship with You because YOU are the bread of life (John 6:35). That verse always reminds me of how You are the One who sustains us in life, who gives us satisfaction and enjoyment in You. Thank You so much for revealing this to me; help me to remember this often when I get restless, as I often do. But I also pray that You will use my restlessness; You know I have big dreams and huge desires to reach people for Your glory, so please give me opportunities. There's only so much waiting I can do, God. ;) Haha but I know You will always get me through (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Other things I need to mention, God: please don't let me kill myself or end up in prison with driver's ed this fall, like I am actually terrified I am going to hurt someone because of how bad of a driver I am. Then again, I am a huge drama queen, so I'm sure I'll be fine, but YES I SO BADLY NEED YOUR HELP WITH THIS JUST TO PASS... I'd also like to get a job, so I pray for opportunities, favor, and protection there. And help me to get academic opportunities and opportunities in my writing to shine for Your glory this school year.

Also, Lord, thank You so much for this summer. I don't know if I've ever had a summer as fun and peaceful and renewing as this one. I tried really hard not to put my expectations into the summer but rather on just enjoying each day and You, and that made it great, God. Thank You for helping me do that and for helping me establish beauty, fitness, and Bible study routines. I just need a writing routine now, so please help me to find time for that. Oh and I need a new diet too...

Seriously though God, the summer was beautiful. I had a blast doing things like jet skiing but also learning truths about life at fun events like Knoxville, and I just had a nice, calm summer relaxing at home. Thank You, for that, for my family, for Your love, patience, forgiveness, and all that You are. Thank You for always walking with me, even when I'm defiant, impatient, and restless. I love You so much, and please let my life echo that.

In Jesus' name I pray, Amen

Ashlee


Hey everyone! Thank you so much for reading this. I like to post these prayers as a way to collect my thoughts and also in hopes that they can inspire your praying. I also did these for both seventh and eighth grade: you can read those here and here. I'm praying for all of you!!

The Best in Faith

Now that I've been blogging for FOUR years (sometime this August was the beginning...you can read my first post here haha), I thought I would round up some of my posts where I share the life and faith lessons I've learned. Chances are that some people have not been following me since clear back then or maybe would appreciate going back and rereading some posts if you missed them before. We all need encouragement, so hopefully by me rounding up the posts where I share my faith can help you.

To Inspire: one of my first posts that talks about my beliefs and mission

2014 Basketball: although this recaps my time playing basketball, it also shares a lot of my thoughts I struggled with and what God taught me

An Honest Post: Me at School: all of my thoughts over my struggles in school and what God taught me

Writers Observe: my thoughts on being real about life and having authentic hope and how that ties into my writing

Rejected: a personal story about a time I got rejected and what I learned through it about our society and the hope

How Racing is Like Life: even if you're not into racing, this post includes the life lessons that racing has taught me that can also apply to you

It's a Beautiful Life: my thoughts on the sin and pain in this world but how God leaves us with hope and how we can enjoy that

A Prayer About 7th Grade: I wrote this out upon entering seventh grade just as a way for me to organize my thoughts and share my own personal prayer to God in hopes that it could inspire you to be real with Him and serve as a guide for getting real with Him, so even if you're not going into seventh grade, you might still find some of the drama or just needing to share your thoughts with God relatable

Show It: a post all about the importance of sharing your faith and how to do that

The Problem with the Media: my thoughts on our media-saturated society and the bad messages it sends us, plus what to do about those

How to Use Social Media for God's Glory: a short guide I came up with on using social media in a healthy, God honoring way, after I saw even Christians' social media where it was something to be desired (I'm being sarcastic...so many people need to actually truly ask themselves if their posts would glorify God)

The 5 Biggest Reasons Why I Believe in God: a short introduction to my thoughts on why I believe in God—hopefully I will eventually go more in depth on this topic

Why Being a Light?: a post on why being authentic and being a light for Jesus is so important to me and why I think it matters

3 Ways to Fulfill Your Dreams: a post on what God taught me about working towards my dreams

Living Your Faith: I Will Not Chill Out: the importance of living boldly for Jesus, some of the reasons why people don't want to, and how to respond to critics

The Dream List: A Guide to Help You Fulfill Your Dreams: more tips on how God wants us to fulfill our dreams for His glory

5 Tips for Telling Others About Jesus: my tips on how to share your faith from my personal experience

The Power of Jesus: a post where I just share my thoughts on living for Jesus and how thankful I am for Him

Jealousy: I Want to Be the Only One: a post I often need to go back to as I consistently struggle with jealousy; includes the only advice that I've learned can really set you free from it

A Prayer About 8th Grade: a more in depth prayer I wrote about all of my fears upon starting eighth grade and how I wanted to glorify God no matter what—I'd really like to do another post like this with tenth grade coming up, so stay tuned

Jesus Died for You: part one of a four part series, an urgent message about the verses God laid on my heart that all tell you about what Jesus did for YOU and how you can find forgiveness in Him

God's Amazing Love for You: part two of the series, this post follows the same format and highlights the powerful truths about God's love for YOU

A Unique, Hopeful Plan Just for You: part three of the series that talks all about God's plan for your life, no matter where you're at

The Ultimate Hope: the last part of the series, all about the hope we have in Jesus

When Running the Race Sucks: a post all about how to persevere and God's faithfulness based on my wonderful cross country experience haha

Is Life Beautiful?: a comprehensive post on all my thoughts over if life is beautiful and how to find true joy in life

Just Do . . . {What God Is Calling You to Do}: my thoughts on being a light for God and just going by what He lays on your heart and not getting hung up on the expectations of society

Why Do We Need to Read the Bible?: the importance of studying God's Word and some tips if you don't like to or are unsure of where to start or what to do

I Can't Sleep: when thoughts of the world steal your peace and how to give them to God, plus a hilarious story of my grandma murdering a lamp hahaha

Darkest Hour, Brightest Hope: finding hope in the dark times of life and what I've learned

Finding Yourself | My Middle School Journey: a huge post covering all of the lessons God taught me through each year of middle school and what I learned above all

Unplugging: my thoughts on how social media is hurting us and why it's more than okay to take a break from it (or not even be on it)

In the Midst of Complex Problems: the overwhelming darkness in this world and how most of the answers aren't easy and how we need to humble ourselves instead of thinking we have them all

Serious Observations You Can Make at the Mall: how people in this society fill their voids with worldly things and my thoughts on that


Thank you all for following along no matter how long you've been here, it means so much to me. I pray that some of these posts can inspire you, and if you have any requests for topics you'd like to see me post over, feel free to do so right here. I feel bad that I haven't been blogging as often; the days just keep flying by, and it still seems surreal to think that already it's going to be my sophomore year of high school. I didn't write a prayer over freshman year because that was when I took a long blogging break, but hey, maybe if I would've done that I wouldn't have felt like I was losing my mind the whole year! All I know is that it's a new year, so I really want to take the time to make sure my mind is in the right place going into it so that I don't get sucked into worldly worries and shallow attention games. I know better than that, but I still struggle with typical feelings like anxiety, jealousy, etc. So if you need some help with that, too, definitely stay tuned for a new prayer I will write out.

There just seems to be so much I want to do between writing on this blog and writing more stories, but I do hope to keep updating here at least once a week. Also with the new school year, I'm hoping it will make me more motivated to write new stories. I definitely want to begin working on a diverse array of short stories as well as keep making progress on my novel. And for whatever reason, I seem to be more motivated during the school year than the summer. I always think it'd be the opposite since school wears me out mentally, but I think it wears me out so much that all summer long I have to lay around and do nothing to make up for it, haha.

Anyway, thank you again for reading, everyone! Feel free to leave me post ideas that you'd like to see! Keep enjoying every season in life and keep looking to Jesus above all.

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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