2018 | Reflection

I know every person in the world, just about, has done the cliche new year posts from blogging to social media, and one thing I have tried to be conscious about when doing mine is to always keep it centered on Jesus. While it is just another year and there is no need to be worked up about it beyond what is healthy, I do think reflection is crucial. And this brings about the perfect opportunity to share everything God has done and taught me in 2018. It’s not all about recapping trips and career milestones like some seem to think it is, because while those things are fun and should be shared, there is a lot more to someone’s year than that. And I sure hope that many are not just living for the good times, because it is only through being present in the bad times that you can grow as a person, with God, which is the ultimate goal for any of us.

2018 was a stressful year. Oh, I loved and enjoyed so many parts of this year, but no year is without pain. As long as we’re in this sinful world, that is normal. But the key to that, I’ve found, is to be PRESENT in it. And by being present in it, I don’t mean simply enduring it. Plenty of people endure pain, but they never think about it. They try to cover it up with the good times or choose to ignore it. But we need to be present in it and what pain is telling us. There are so many essential things in life—joy, peace, intimacy with God, to name a few—that very clearly can be learned through pain and really no other way. Pain provides the foundation for growth if you listen to what is happening through it and choose to think about what God is allowing through it.

I had plenty of opportunities for that this year.

But I know I have been made stronger for it, as well as others who have gone through pain, and that is a beautiful thing to see. I would like to share that with you through this post as I recap each month (I promise I will try not to make this post a book and will instead link back to other posts you can read at your own time, if you wish). It was especially cool because I consistently grew throughout the whole year. In 2017, it seems I fluctuated a lot, but this year each had its own season, and I’m thankful for that. I’ll also share some of my favorite moments from this year and some new projects God helped me work on and, lastly, share a few goals for 2019. As always, I want to hear about you all as well, so if you have anything about your year or something you want me to pray for, please let me know!

Without further ado, let’s recap 2018!


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January

The year began with me halfway through my freshman year. I took a long break from blogging towards the second half of 2017, which led into the beginning of 2018, so I don’t have any posts to link back to. I do remember, though, the struggles of freshman year it seems I fought a lot, with hormones to restlessness to anxiety struggles. While I was not thrilled about starting the year that way, I actually think it’s better to be broken because that is when God can help a person become better than even before. I know that was definitely true for me as the rest of the year unfolded.

Lessons

I also started an online college course I was thrilled I got to take, about current events in the world. I loved the broad scope of the topics learned, and it opened my eyes immensely to the complex problems of the world and how there’s not an easy solution like we wish there would be, but with God, all things are possible, and no situation is without hope, thankfully. Sharing Him is always what’s most important.

I had to learn not to worry or get overwhelmed about things that aren’t here yet. I have to rest in God’s good plans for me now and focus on the things in front of me now. Time always comes sooner than I think—high school certainly did—and so just enjoy right now.

Memories

Playing Minecraft with my brother. We started doing this the summer of 2015, where we would have fun playing this game on our Xbox together when our parents were working and I had to babysit. We have a lot of funny stories of trial and error on this game, and it’s one of the few things we do where we don’t fight! We also did this a little bit in the beginning of the year. I’m not a gamer at all—though my brother definitely is—but I do like the creativity in this game. Plus my pattern texture pack is gorgeous, but of course Hunter doesn’t think so ;)

Hanging out with my cousins at our grandparents’ house. We have “our” own little room upstairs that we hang out in, watch random things on TV, and just hang out. I always laugh a lot, which throughout the year I learned is so important, and enjoy that time together a lot.

Staying up late with my grandma and cousin Kirsten on the phone, tormenting her because we won’t let her go to bed. ;) And then Kirsten and I sharing our fave songs with each other and blaring those. It’s also hilarious to hear the things that come out of Grams’ mouth past a certain time of night… And the poor thing doesn’t understand double meanings of things in this society where people pervert things, and given the right context, she has said some absolutely hilarious things as a result.

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February

Again, I still hadn’t woke up from my hiatus with the stress of high school and my own anxiety problems at the time, so I did not blog throughout this month. I turned 15! We went to our first hockey game of the year—love those. We got to go down on the ice afterwards, for some event they were holding where they let the public skate on ice. Hunter brought his skates; I attempted not to fall and kill myself. Thankfully, I was successful. Our dog, Willy, had a near-death experience I witnessed, which did not help any anxiety I had and almost became a contributor to the year’s stress, but praise God he was okay. I’ll write about it sometime when I recap more about Willy’s life.

Lessons

I had to learn to just be a kid at times. Being extremely sensitive, I don’t respond well to conflict or when circumstances and changes come up with my family. I never have. It’s not that I respond poorly in the sense of my reaction, it’s just that I feel distressed and powerless when things like that happen. A lot of things happened this year like that. February brought the beginning of that. But I remember, amidst uncertainty about what may happen with something and my anxiety as a result, I actually FaceTimed my cousin, Kir, and had fun just talking to her about our inside jokes and the not so serious part of life. I think I needed that. I think I needed to know I was capable of putting adult, mature problems on hold to just act like a kid. Kids don’t worry about family problems. And this can be good or bad, because I do think A LOT of kids need to learn to care more about other people, especially their families, but when it’s excessive and you can feel like you have to put your own life on hold, like I felt, that’s when I had to learn to release what I can’t control. I can’t control other people and their decisions. I can’t control the consequences. And I should not have to. God has promised to take care of everything, and the reason some people have extra problems is because they interrupt His work.

I reached out to a Christian leader I had respected for some time from hearing his personal testimony of living a reckless life that resulted in tragedy for himself and other innocent people but how through it God changed his life. I sent him an email telling him about my faith and how I admired his story. He also provided me with some valuable insight for my current book and was overall sweet, genuine, and godly. He is a living example of how seemingly lost people can be redeemed and live productive lives in society for the glory of God.

Amidst researching colleges (as only a freshman, yes, but I love making plans and knowing my direction, so I was very eager to jump on my college search), I was considering both Christian colleges along with secular, public universities. I became worried about even considering those because of the potential things they may teach contrary to living for God since they don’t have that faith distinction, but then I realized—and really, have long known this since it’s true for me now in high school—that the way to “remain” a Christian (I mean staying dedicated to God and am not talking about salvation), then it does not matter where you go. Knowing God is just like any other relationship that you must invest in daily, and as long as you focus on one day at a time, doing what you can to live for God, that is enough, and no one can take that from you.

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March

Back in December when I went to my annual eye appointment, I was told I could get glasses to help with eye fatigue and another minor defect I had. I love the frames I got, which arrived this month. Sometimes I like wearing them just for fun. ;) For spring break, I got to spend time with my grandparents in Estherville, which I always love.

Lessons

There were times this month where my feelings of loneliness and sadness intensified, leaving me to struggle with even the basic truths I took for granted that I had thought, such as that people cared about me. Of course I knew intellectually that people cared about me, but going to school day after day amidst people who share such vastly different life goals and feeling so out of place as a result, it was easy to forget that truth and just listen to my raging emotions and the lies from the devil. I remember, though, specifically: I was on my way to my PE class—and I don’t know why, but I was deeply upset about something pertaining to school and my peers, and I remember doubting my worth again. But I had also just gotten a message from a girl I keep in touch with online and is a complete sweetheart who also loves Jesus and has been encouraging me with my dreams for Him since I was really young. And I remember the way she ended that message was by telling me that I am loved, even though she had no idea about my feelings. And as I walked into that locker room to change, I remember that dawning on me specifically and reclaiming that truth. You are loved. Never let the ugliness of the world make you forget that. Don’t let feelings of despair overrule.

Speaking of PE class, I also learned the importance of exercise on mental health and overall wellbeing. Okay, I remember looking ahead to my last trimester of school and being terrified for PE class because my time in sports left me feeling insecure about my athletic ability, and I just wasn’t looking forward to having to do activities for it. Well, PE ended up being my favorite class that year. The mental strain of my other classes left me counting down the hours until PE, where I could run and enjoy being active without pressure or worry of deadlines and other projects. I also regained my confidence in my athletic ability by playing team sports like volleyball and other fun games (normally I hate games, but I thank God I had friends in my class that made it fun).

Memories

During PE we got to lay down on the mats for twenty minutes to track our resting heartbeat, and it was so nice because I could just pray and talk to God about life, about everything. It was so special. I’m beyond grateful for our relationship.

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April

In school, I took a practice college entrance exam, which was exhausting, but I was glad to have the practice. But I started blogging again!!! Read my first post back here. I also shared some of the life lessons I learned while being away so long (read here). I remember during this time how society seemed to be in upheaval about many complex social issues, ones that especially touched on morality. I wrote about how sometimes it’s okay not to have all of the answers and how we ultimately need to rely on God in those times (read here). I also recapped the spring break with my grandparents and how memories like that never fade here. And lastly, I opened up about my struggles with anxiety and everything I’ve learned to help me cope with it (read here).

Lessons

I had to learn how to find peace from feelings of sadness and despair. On a note in my phone, I wrote how it comes through reflecting on who God is and the wisdom He’s trusted me with. From getting real with Him and knowing that He doesn’t expect me to have my act together before I come to Him. From praying just whatever is on my heart, the dumb desires or things I’m too ashamed to ask for out loud. He understands and He is so good to me. I’m writing this so I can always remember that.

Memories

Going shopping for my birthday with my mom. We went to Jordan Creek together and ate at a hotel we had stayed in the year before, and though we had to spend literally an hour at American Eagle just to buy three pairs of shorts (trying things on is so fun!!!!!), I also got some other fun things at my other favorite stores, and it did get me in the mood for summer with all of the wonderful spring fragrances and styles.

Falling in love with One Direction again and putting their songs on repeat ;)

Lots of fun traveling down to the Amana Colonies to eat with Mom and Dad while Hunter stayed home playing video games (figures). One time we went in the pouring rain at night, and when we came back into town, this local dairy ice cream place that is so popular amongst people in our town still had a line out to the road. In the rain. #itsworthit I loved being able to talk with them, though, and of course my usual cheeseburgers never disappoint. ;)

Mom and I also discovered a wonderful new ice cream place at Jordan Creek because we had to go back to the mall even after spending an hour at American Eagle because one of the jeans didn’t fit. Hey, it’s shopping, who am I to complain?

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May

We actually had some spring storms, which I love, except one time we actually had a tornado warning and my brother and I went to the basement. I don’t think it was very serious for us, but one thing that is serious is how many notebooks I have as you can see… I don’t bring things down into the basement like I used to as a kid, but I do bring things I can’t replace, and I’m thinking I really need a new system of organization for my five thousand notebooks… I also got a free trial of Photoshop! I love web design, so it’s about time, right? That’s typically top of the line in commercial design, and it’s very expensive as a result, but I was shocked to see that they offered a free trial that didn’t even require entering billing information. It was overwhelming at first for me, but I watched some tutorials and just learned how to do one thing at a time and actually made some cool things with my short time having it, like my signature at the bottom of this post ;) In terms of blogging, I wrote a comprehensive blog post about my grandparents’ hometown and how it is so dear to my heart because of them (read here). I also wrote down my observations about life learned from shopping, which I did plenty of thankfully because shopping makes me a very happy girl ;) (read here). Lastly, I shared some of my thoughts on morality and why I believe it needs to be emphasized (read here).

Memories

Chilling with my brother in the basement for a storm warning and going shopping of course ;)

Going to Slumberland with my mom and having fun browsing and picking things out. It made me dream about my future house (that is going to have a king sized bed; I actually saw one in person haha and they look wonderful). It was also a gloomy, rainy day, which for whatever reason are my favorites, and it was perfect spring weather instead of the snow we had in March and even April.

Lessons

I learned to stop doubting God because waiting does not mean He isn’t working, or that nothing will happen. In fact, usually it is the opposite. I am still impatient—what will ever change, ha—but God showed me multiple times through this month how people I didn’t think would notice what I’m doing actually were, which showed me how He is working, and that just because I don’t see it or get the results when I want them, does not mean He isn’t. In fact, that’s usually when He’s doing the most on my behalf. And I have to trust Him and just relax. People are watching you. I’ve wrote about that numerous other times, but it’s worth repeating. I see it again and again.

Going along with above, you never know what exactly God is doing behind the scenes. I was surprised immensely by something someone did for me without my knowledge of it, and—had someone not said something—probably would never have known. It just goes to show that God is doing things, and just because we don’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Faith is believing what is unseen, and as I got older and more cynical, I found this a challenge. But God was patient with me and gave me an abundance of reminders and instances like those where I was brought to my knees by His faithfulness and humbled by how little I really do know or see. Trust Him all the way—you can be sure that with Him, He is always fighting for you, regardless of what you see. <3 Isn’t that amazing and so humbling? It’s one of the most crucial things I learned and something I must remember daily when impatience threatens my peace.

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June

I became a sophomore and got freshman year done, which really did seem to fly—not that I’m complaining. I spent some really special time with family and cousins this month, since my immediate family ditched me for Canada, which after enjoying past years there, I had decided I was ready for a break of the fishing life. :’) I found out during this month also that I am going to have jaw surgery eventually. :/ Upon completing freshman year, I wrote about the biggest lesson I learned: how to control my thoughts again, something I had been careless about and payed the consequences for (read here). Read this complete post of the lessons I learned from those weeks with family as well as the fun experiences I got to try, like jet skiing!

Lessons

I learned just how important it is to be able to have people to talk to. I enjoy my cousins so much, and I really enjoyed spending time with them. It’s important to be able to have that time to relax and just enjoy companionship with other people, and it helped me renew my mind immensely that summer and better prepare me for sophomore year.

Memories

Eating out with Mom after my last day of school and that glow of knowing I’m a sophomore and getting to talk with her about future plans.

Sitting in my new furry white chair I got for my room and completely finishing it over the summertime (except for my closet, but if you can’t see it, it doesn’t necessarily count…that would be a this-year goal okay).

The talks with my mom as we drive up to meet my grandparents halfway to their town, and spending a wonderful week by myself with them and making Grams walk their downtown trail and take my pictures, and then spending a few days with my cousin Kirsten and getting to go jet skiing.

The feeling of the warm, morning summer air and the sunshine beaming down while cruising down the street on a bike with Gramps—so happy he can still ride bikes with me!

Falling in love with the girls’ room decor section at Hobby Lobby because talk about pink and sparkles galore—what I live for.

Eating out, laughing about anything and everything, and doing nails with Kir and then talking of course until the early morning! :)

Getting to see my cousin Amanda and sitting in her room cuddled up with blankets on opposite ends of the bed or floor—whichever we happened to prefer—and being on our laptops or devouring the books we bought. We also called Kirsten and all talked about guys, inside jokes, and all that fun stuff! I’m very thankful for those girls. <3

Eating cheeseballs all the time in the summer because Mom was so kind to make them for me :D

Doing an immense amount of daily reading because I bought tons of new books and wanted to finish off a series I loved, so I saved them for last to give me motivation to read all the books I needed to.

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July

I spent a lot of time with family, mainly, which was very nice. I went to a swimming class with my grandma, which I always love, and then we ate out and went shopping, my favorite things in life! A big store at the outlet mall was also going out of business, so EVERYTHING was on sale and she bought me a wonderful Michael Kors sweater that was under $20 I believe. :) I also wrote about what I learned from reading all those books I bought the previous month—very interesting things, I promise ;) (read here).

Memories

Getting to swim, shop, and eat out with my grandma. At her Y, she had a meeting the night before the class because I spent the night, and so I went upstairs and walked around this track that overlooked the rest of the Y—which I love, by the way. I thought only walking would not phase me because how active was I really being? But this was at the time I was not doing anything exercise-wise, and I think I walked maybe about three miles total. MY HIPS WERE SO SORE THE NEXT DAY. I basically floated my way through the class the next day; EVERYTHING HURT. But I remember dreaming about working out in college one day and just how much I enjoy being active. I also remember these mirrors I walked by at a certain point, and I would always check out my outfit because I am conceited and also because I plan my workout outfits as much as my real ones. :’) I also loved getting to eat Mexican food with my grandma and having fun looking through all the fashions at the mall together. Those are the types of memories that won’t fade away.

ALSO SHOPPING WITH MOTHER AGAIN!!! I could never shop too much. We went to an outlet mall again, one of our favorites down in Williamsburg, because she needed something as a gift for someone, and hey, I’m just along for the ride!!! We got some really awesome deals on stuff, though. That obnoxious—no, BEAUTIFUL—pink winter coat I have from Columbia? We got that for under $25. My life has become dedicated to finding good deals on expensive items, and I don’t regret it one bit. ;) Also, you all should pray that my future husband will shop with me one day because that’s just essential. ;) Everyone I love will shop with me, so he better! And besides, my father and brother, if you put them in Cabela’s, they are there for HOURS. At least an hour, minimum, every time. As long as it’s what they want, they’re all for it!

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August

I began working out daily, something I found to be very beneficial. I spent a lot more time with family again. I began my sophomore year of high school! I recapped going to the Knoxville Nationals with my family in this post, as well as the deep themes about life I noticed while there. Also, this prayer I wrote in this post about me entering 10th grade, basically sums up the biggest lessons God taught me throughout the year and in my whole life, really. If you only ever read one other blog post of mine, I would definitely read that one because of how God spoke to me through those lessons and how it’s really changed my life for the better.

Lessons

Working out is great for you not just physically, but mentally. I’d made it a goal to do a workout every night—nothing fancy, just simple toning exercises, and it’s definitely been worth it. I’d heard that exercise can strengthen someone psychologically, and I can definitely confirm that. It quiets the noise and makes you feel like you’re doing something, which you are, so it’s a total win.

Memories

Going to the Knoxville Nationals as a family and with some friends and enjoying the buzz in the atmosphere as well as the great food and just taking in a fun event on a perfect summer evening and night.

My mom buying me pretty pink flowers, just because. I LOVE FLOWERS ESPECIALLY IF THEY ARE PINK! :D

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September

I began driver’s ed, which was not one of my favorite times of the year, but it needed to be done. I still got to see family again this month a lot—which is nice, because they really are so important, and we learned that this year especially while enduring one of the hardest losses. I got to go to Iowa City to consult with my doctors about jaw surgery, and while that reality is not one I like to think too hard about, Mom and I went shopping!!! :) I didn’t break the bank, though. And we went to a hockey game!!!

Lessons

Comparison really is a waste of time. I struggled with so much insecurity near the beginning of sophomore year, thoughts left over from freshman year, and I compared myself relentlessly to other people—with beauty, talents, just about everything. And I would get irritated when people would tell me to just stop doing it because I felt like I had to or have what the other people had, or I wasn’t good enough. But that really is a lie. Reading some books from people and hearing other people authentically talk about this—who were some of the people I had actually compared myself to—opened up my eyes about this. Even the most seemingly successful people compare themselves, and just because someone else is pretty or successful or talented or whatever it may be, does not mean you aren’t.

Believe in what God promises. I had to be so intentional about my thinking or else it would take over like I let it back as a freshman. I had to make the choice to trust God even when I felt upset or just didn’t feel like I could trust Him. I had to specifically write down what I knew to be true because He had shown me that through relentless praying throughout my life and cling to that. And that really does help fix your thinking, is by fixating on Him.

Memories

Driving through the city to see family at nighttime—ahh nothing makes my heart quite as happy as that!! I also loved getting to stay in a hotel; when I am older I want to stay in hotels all the time for the heck of it, but that’s obviously not that practical, but still. ;)

Sitting on the couch talking with cousins and my grandparents; there is something so special about being in the presence of warm, genuine people like that.

Being at Cabela’s for five years because see above ;)

Standing by my WINDOW at Wells Fargo! There’s this window in Wells Fargo (well, the whole arena has a panoramic view of outside, which is awesome haha) that I love and always must see because the river and bridge over it is so beautiful, I can’t even.

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October

I passed driver’s ed, thankfully! I was stressed out a lot about things, but God helped me through all of it and showed His faithfulness again and again, as well as perspective. How many of those things really changed my life in a drastic way that I’d worried about? None. I wrote more on this here, as well as more lessons I’ve shared.

Lessons

I learned not to compare myself to illusions. This goes along with what I was saying with comparison up above. It truly is meaningless to do so because especially in this digital age, everything can be made to look perfect. But don’t get caught in that trap. Most of the stuff, like images, you see online or on social media especially are edited to perfection. I know I got really caught into this with my looks. I would constantly see images of girls who looked amazing and then feel terrible with how I looked naturally. But that’s why comparing yourselves to others is a joke. You don’t see what really goes on behind the scenes or, more specifically, in their heart. People who feel the need to pretend are also very unhappy people, I can promise you that. It’s not bad to want to look nice or present yourself well, but again, it’s about that balance and still being authentic and relatable with others.

Remember the things God has done for you when you face feelings of doubt. I began to worry a lot about my future at this time and just getting impatient about when things would come, if ever. But I had to remind myself of all the wonderful opportunities and people God had already put in my life, and I didn’t even have to DO anything for them. It’s the same with those other things. He will surprise you when you least expect it, and you won’t have to worry about orchestrating everything on your own. In fact, some of the most special connections I’ve had in my life came truly from Him—I didn’t even do anything to reach out or have these people in my life. The best things in life come from Him, so don’t try to force them yourself.

Memories

Waking up and getting my dream curls in my hair just from being lazy and going to bed with my hair still up.

Appreciating life where I was and being with Mom in Des Moines for a doctor’s appointment and rejoicing for what we have, which is each other, and then some shopping afterwards of course :’)

Going to a hockey game with Dad and finding a new song I absolutely love—you’ll hear about this later, trust me—and just enjoying the environment with the food and the arena and MY WINDOW and the players too :D

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November

November had some sad times as trials worsened, but what God taught me about my thinking was a pivotal moment for me. When I went HOLIDAY SHOPPING, I shared some of those lessons here.

Lessons

Write down what you know God wants you to believe, and then believe it. This changed my thinking way for the better when I did this. And I absolutely had to. Sometimes you have to be firm with yourself if you don’t want to just wish for better thinking. You can’t just hope you think better—that’s not enough. I had “hoped” to think better this year, so when my thinking still didn’t align with how I wanted it, that’s when I knew just wishing for it wasn’t enough. I HAD to take action and be intentional about seeking God and His will for my thinking. I wrote down everything He had laid on my heart in response to the insecurities I faced and had my mom read them over as well. And I reread them when I get down again. THEY HELP IMMENSELY. It’s all about perspective. Don’t let your thoughts run wild—you have to be conscious about what you believe. Doing this is what has made my thinking so much better now than where it was. And all glory to God for that and for changing my mind. I’ve learned that there’s definitely a balance: while the world will put thoughts you don’t want in your mind, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO LET THEM STAY THERE. This is one thing I used to be so good at as a kid—would I get upset? Yes. But my perspective was always solid and I was able to focus on God and not let it bring me down for long. When I got older, I got lazy with that, and my thoughts ruled my life. But that’s happened long enough, and I begged God to show me how to get back to being optimistic again, and He did.

Memories

Going to the mall AT NIGHT (<3) to pick up some things, and just wandering around the aisles with Mom. We didn’t actually buy anything unfortunately, but I want to go shopping at night sometime—the atmosphere is so tranquil compared to going in the day.

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December

This month was very sad as we lost my aunt to a long battle with cancer, but it was amazing to see how our family came together and trusted God with her ultimately because talk about putting life in perspective—that is what matters, and situations like that prove it. I also shared some thoughts on dealing with disappointment and hard things in life here.

Lessons

I’m not alone in how I feel, and neither are you. There are times I would get upset because I felt I was the only one who felt lonely or misunderstood, but I remember rereading a book I talked about here and how a girl similar to me felt the same way. And I’ve heard so many people say that they may feel that way, even though exteriorly they look to be happy constantly. Sometimes, though, those are the people who feel the most lonely.

Memories

The wonderful anticipation and warmth of opening presents with the serenity of family.

2019 Goals

I am so thankful to God for another year and for all that I was able to accomplish in 2018. Though it didn’t feel like much, I am learning to be patient and enjoy where I am now and just do what I can with God’s help. I’m also working on making my goals more simple but still effective. Here are some of mine for this new year:

✧ Pray more. One time in the summer when I felt overwhelmed by emotions, I took time to journal out my thoughts and a prayer over them. Wow, does that change the game. Praying helps hugely with perspective, and I love God so much and want to talk to Him always—I don’t ever want to be too busy for Him.

✧ Go on college visits and consider programs I would like. I CANNOT WAIT FOR JUNIOR YEAR AND COLLEGE VISITS! I definitely have an idea about where I want to go as well as what I want to major in, but I definitely want to take the time to ask each college tons of questions to make sure they will be a good fit for me and help me with my goals for my life. I also want to consider additional minors I could add to my major to make myself more marketable, especially since the major I want is very flexible and pairs well with other things.

✧ Finish my novel. This absolutely does need to happen this year—it’s been five years since I wrote a book now…which I’m embarrassed to say. I really need to get one done this year because this, like other things, is also about being intentional and just making the time to do it, even when I don’t “feel” like it.

✧ Write with a more real approach on this blog. I want to start blogging more about my actual life experiences and telling stories through them—like going to a hockey game! If you have anything specific you want to hear about, tell me!!

✧ Be intentional with social media. I want to take baby steps to growing on social media, like sharing old posts from here on Facebook, for example, or replying to more people on Twitter—and not worry about results.

I also want to sincerely thank all of you for reading this blog and for supporting me. Just when I least expect it, someone will reach out to me and tell me about how my writing has impacted their life, just when I think it isn’t. And that humbles me so much—my dream for my whole entire life since I was only 8 years old has been to write and inspire people for God’s glory through that. And when I get caught up with impatience, I forget that this dream is literally being fulfilled right in front of me thanks to God and you all. So thank you, so much. I pray you all have a wonderful year and that you cling to the hope of Jesus above all because I promise you that with Him, nothing else in this life can bring you down. <3 Thank you all again!!

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Holiday Shopping & Dealing with Mood Swings

Last weekend my mom and I headed up to the Altoona outlet mall for some Christmas shopping. We did this last year when it first opened, and they had some new stores I was elated to check out. My mom also wanted to stock up on Christmas Bath & Body Works products! I had a blast with her and am so grateful we got to go.

We didn’t buy a whole lot of things on this trip, it was more just for the fun of it than anything. But I did get this body wash from Bath & Body Works because I’ve been needing a shower gel. Oh my gosh, on my last shopping trip I talk about here, I found a body wash at Sephora that smelled wonderful but was called “Brazilian 4 Play” or something and I was like um no…

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One of the new stores I was thrilled to see? Michael Kors. I’ve never been in a store of his before, and honestly I didn’t expect much from it, but it far exceeded my expectations. I would’ve bought, like, half the store if that were practical. :)

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My mom is not a big shopper whereas I totally am, but I think it’s starting to grow on her. ;) I’m working on her haha. Once I can get her to go Black Friday shopping we’ll be great! But we both agreed that this outlet mall is practically better than the actual mall… I just find that the overall layout and setup is so much nicer, and since it’s an outlet obviously there’s a lot better prices. I’ve even found that there tends to be cuter products here.

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However, over the weekend I dealt with some wonderful mood swings. You know, the stereotypical teenage girl emotions that oftentimes make me forget every life lesson God has ever taught me INCLUDING one I JUST wrote about in this post here, that is, about learning to control my thoughts! But that is part of the ups and downs of life, is struggling with things, and unfortunately, especially at this time in my life called growing up, controlling my thoughts is probably going to be something I have to be conscious of. But I’m not going to give up even when I fail because God in His grace has ALSO taught me things to do when I feel like my thoughts are turning bad. Obviously being conscious of taking them to Him, like I talk about here, and reading His Word, which I talk about here, are critical—you’ll never get a grip on your thought life without those first and foremost. But I also have some new tips I have yet to share that I thought I’d go over.

1. Journal your bad thoughts and then pray over them

I think I may have potentially mentioned this in this post here, but it’s something that has helped me with praying, for one. If you read the post I linked up above about praying your thoughts to God, I talk about how sometimes doing that is a struggle for me, especially the bad thoughts, because I think we get these ideas in our heads that we shouldn’t say our negative thoughts to God, but that’s far from true (1 Peter 5:7). But if you do struggle with being real and honest with Him about negative thoughts, especially if you are just starting to do that and are uncomfortable with it, I’ve found that for me, it helps if I journal my thoughts first, and then I can go over them. Sometimes I write a prayer in response to them. Sometimes, if I’m really worked up, I take a day to just write about it as a form of release and then wait another day, and it helps put those thoughts in perspective (especially when the cause is hormones, which it often is!). I think journaling is a therapeutic tool on its own, and just because you try journaling doesn’t mean you have to write well at all or that you even have to write in complete sentences. Sometimes when I’m lazy, I just do the bullet journaling method and make lists of my thoughts to save time. But I definitely recommend this; it helps put things into perspective, and looking back over the years helps you witness and observe God’s faithfulness, which is pretty cool!

2. Reread old notes you’ve written

Going along with journaling, this is why I believe it can also help: you can learn from your old feelings and mistakes so you don’t keep getting imprisoned by them. Managing my emotions is nothing new to me. I’ve been blogging since I was 11 years old, and the insecure feelings I tend to feel even now were present in my life clear back in sixth grade, and guess what? I wrote about the truth to combat those thoughts right here, back when I was 12 years old. Looking back on those lessons helps put my thoughts in perspective and to remember what God has already taught me. The same things may still tempt me, but I don’t have to give in. I have tons of notes scattered throughout my phone, and making the time to look through those gives me an immense feeling of peace and overwhelming joy for God’s glory about what He’s taught me.

3. Look through old photos and videos for a boost

Here’s another tip that surprised me at how well it lifts my mood: sometimes in life, the best thing to do when you have negative thoughts and feel moody is to just stop and reflect on what God has already done for you and wait for those gloomy moods to pass. One of the best ways I’ve found for me to do this is to look through my old pictures. Looking through old photos brings back so many memories for me and reminds me of all the special times God has blessed me with in life. I do this when I feel anxious, depressed, you name it, it helps with about all of that. Pretty soon I am filled with a true joy that comes from enjoying each moment God has given me, and I believe that’s why remembering (and taking five million photos) is so special. I’m going through the Old Testament in my Bible study now, and many of those books can get repetitive as they go over everything God has done that I’ve already read about, but it shows the beauty of people remembering that and aligning their hearts with His, and that’s why we do that.

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BONUS: Quotes

Another thing that sort of goes along with looking through old photos is looking through old quotes I’ve saved. I have screenshotted so many quotes on my phone, which is actually nice because they show up with all of my photos, so I can look through all of them. And I have a folder on my laptop full of my favorite quotes. Sometimes, you just have to stop and remind yourself of what you already know is true, and that’s why looking through Bible verses and Christian quotes is so helpful.

I hope you are all enjoying the fall holidays! I hope these tips can inspire you as you deal with negative attitudes, and let me know which are your faves!

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My Thoughts Lately

Oh my gosh you guys I am so sorry it’s been over a month since I’ve posted….. I’m not on another hiatus, at least certainly not by choice, but I’ve been more busy than I ever have been between balancing the workload of school this year and then taking driver’s ed, too. Thankfully that is about over—I just pray to God I pass ***I DID THANKFULLY—UPDATES LATER IN THE POST***. But needless to say, a lot has happened since then, in my faith and in life. So I’m going to recap all of those things now as well as things I’ve been learning along the way… And then hopefully I can start getting back into all the other posts I’ve been planning, like my second letter to my future husband, and yeah, all that good stuff. ;)

First off, I would be lying if I said it hasn’t been hard, though over the last month, I’ve seen a significant change in my thoughts that God has helped me with, and I’ll go into that later. I’ve been trying hard not to be so stressed because life truly is short, and if there’s one thing that’s been evident to me lately, it is that God always works things out, but there have been some legitimate times that would cause any person stress. In terms of my extended family, we’ve been hit with one of the hardest trials I think any of us have faced yet. It’s led me to do a lot of reflecting on life as a whole as this trial is closely tied with life and death, and that puts things into perspective. Now it’s been a matter of seeing all the things I’ve previously believed about the meaning of life become reiterated on how true they are—and then living that out at a time where it’s absolutely crucial to do so. I know we all would appreciate prayers with this because it’s really hard, but I have been amazed by the faith of people like my grandparents, who are a couple of the people impacted most by this. They have been such a witness to people, as they are true definitions of people with authentic faith. You seriously can tell how authentic somebody is by how they respond to trials. I’m not saying they don’t ever have breakdowns or times where it doesn’t hurt because it absolutely does and would cause any sane person an excessive amount of stress, but it has not stopped them from pursuing their hope in Jesus or from witnessing to others. And they really have, especially to someone like me, where very little goes unnoticed.*

*That may be a half truth. I always thought I’m an observant person, but I went to my friend’s volleyball game, and evidently she tried to wave at me and I never knew, so! I apologize for all the times I’ve blown people off like a snob; my head is in the clouds far too much.

Upon reflecting on some of my own stress and still having to go to school and function like a normal person and meet constant deadlines, here is something God laid on my heart that I took note of:

You know you have the peace of God when everything around you should leave you crying hysterically and unable to function but instead you’re up and you’re not crying and there’s this sense of feeling good inside of you that makes absolutely no sense given the circumstances and moods. It makes no logical sense but it’s there and it’s undeniable.

You get it through humbling yourself, by reading His word, by talking to Him as often as possible. And then He works in your heart and it catches up.
— My note

I have been honestly amazed by the times it feels like any other person my age would lose their mind, and instead I’ve felt downright happy, almost on top of the world, even though my world could be crashing. But that abnormal feeling is exactly what God promises for His followers: it’s the John 14:27 peace He’s promising for anyone who is in Him, the peace that sustained His followers through their darkest times repeatedly throughout history. And even though my trials may feel insurmountable, they’re seriously nothing compared to some of the horrors that Christians before me have went through, yet they acted amazing and did not give into sin or pressures of the world. They are my inspiration, and my prayer is that my life can reflect that, too.

And you CAN obtain that peace. It comes from developing a relationship with God. So many people say they believe God gives that peace and that they personally have tried to find it but still feel incredibly stressed in situations—situations that I think, to be blunt, are just drama compared to what some people go through. And then I look at their walk with God, and I’m like, well, how serious are you, really? Because these are the people who go to church when it’s convenient and otherwise spend no time with God save for their prayers that are purely about their own problems. A) I am not saying prayers about your problems are always selfish, but I am saying when that’s all you pray for and the only time you give God attention and never just because of who He is, then yes, I think that’s selfish. B) If you are not dedicating yourself to God everyday, why would you have His peace? These are the people who just want to use God or use Christianity as a social label or insurance for heaven, and it doesn’t work that way. The very essence of Christianity and the whole purpose of why Jesus died for us is to connect us to God, so we can have a complete, intense relationship with Him. So if you give Him your time when it’s convenient or when it looks good or when it’s fun such as during retreats and games (which again are not bad but can be if that’s the only time you give God attention), then would you honestly call that a relationship?

And if you don’t have a relationship with Him, WHY would you have His peace? His peace comes from knowing and enjoying Him, from the faith when it’s hard, from the readings in your Bible even when you don’t feel like it, from the diligence of praying for things you already have a million times. THAT is when a relationship with Him is built, when good seeds are sowed, and that is when you really develop that relationship through good and bad that sustains you through anything. But don’t think you can give Him attention one day out of the week or between five second prayers about your problems and then experience that peace, because you don’t know God, so why would you know His peace? I know this from personal experience. When I am so stressed to the point where I can hardly think—which has happened to me about thirty different times over the past few months, no lie, about stupid things—it truly is because I haven’t been devoting myself to God. That’s the hard, honest truth, and I’ll be the first to admit it. But when I focus my attention on Him? It’s amazing, the changes that happen. It’s why I can’t stress this authenticity enough. People act so shocked when they fall apart during trials because they claim they had faith, but I’m like, well, if your faith was only as good as going to church every Sunday or talking to God when it’s convenient, that just isn’t enough as the purpose of being a Christian is that you’ve died to yourself and live for God—ALL OF THE TIME. And again, I’m not saying you don’t ever screw up, but your heart is right with God, and He helps you back on the right track because you feel that conviction.

We were blessed in spite of all this to still create some special memories, though, and get to do fun things. On one weekend, we went up to Estherville again (read all about that town here) to see my grandparents.

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In the meantime, I became addicted to these. I actually bought these thinking they’d be chocolate overkill and therefore disgusting, but no, they’re actually amazing:

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AND I got the most gorgeous (and most expensive ha) notebook to add to my expansive collection, BUT IT HAS MY NAME ON IT so what’s not to love?! This is actually my writer’s notebook, so it’s a comprehensive notebook consisting of everything from novel ideas to blog post ideas to character development ideas to song inspiration. I’ve been needing a notebook like that, and I’m certainly getting my money’s worth with how much I’ve already wrote in it.

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See, isn’t Estherville beautiful? I had fun getting to see some cousins of mine, and also I spent a majority of my time outlining this notebook, which was a tedious process as I’m a perfectionist and this is the prettiest notebook I’ve ever owned, so it has to be perfect. ;) This is the Swinging Bridge we were on that goes over the Des Moines River.

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There have been so many little things that have stressed me out where God has always remained faithful. I ended up being sick pretty early in the year for multiple days, and missing a couple days with my workload is like missing a month, so that had me stressed beyond measures. BUT there would be times where I may not know exactly what I’m doing, but somehow manage to get a high score on an assignment. I pray for favor, and I know my mom and grandma do that for me as well, and it just goes to show how God honors that. I’ve had to do a lot of reflecting on that because it’s turned into a pattern, where I stress excessively about something and somehow it works out. In fact, one day after learning how to park in driver’s ed (a huge stress for me haha), and it went way better than I thought, a verse I read in Psalms came to mind: “The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all,” (Psalms 34:19 NIV). That has been so evident for me. It oftentimes feels like problem after another, and I just think, well, once I make it out of this, or that, etc. But then I am reminded of what God revealed to me in my prayer here, that life is a series of good and bad and the only joy that can be found is knowing and enjoying Him in the right now. He works the rest out. :)

The next weekend we headed up to the Cities for some much needed and cherished time with family up there. That visit was wonderful, and I loved having another opportunity to connect with my two cousins Kirsten and Amanda, who are like my sisters. Read all about them here in this recap of the fun things we did in Okoboji and the Cities last summer. We were leaving right after school for a weekend, so the downside to that is since it’s a five hour drive it made for a long night, BUT I got to do something I absolutely love: seeing city lights at night. I don’t know why that appeals to me so much, but it always has and always will. Going through Des Moines at night is my fave, too. But I’d never seen Minneapolis illuminated at night. I got some decent pics; what I really need is better camera quality haha. On our way up, we stopped and ate at Wendy’s by Cabela’s (of course the boys had to go there…whoever said men don’t shop has never been with them there for hours ha…).

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And I just walked around being conceited as always and trying to find photo opportunities and expensive clothes to buy and daydreaming about my future husband probably and if I’ll go through the same with him ha. You know, the usual ;’)

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Here are some of the best pics I could manage, even though they weren’t as great as they could be:

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All of that of course put me in a very contemplative and wistful mood because then I started dreaming about where I may live or what job I have, but the whole visit really put life into perspective for me, and I decided, while praying to God on the way there as we passed through the glowing city, that this needed to be my prayer through it all:

I pray that all the success I get in my life may be used to glorify You, God, and that I can have success for Your glory. And help me to have a positive attitude and know that You will use me, I just have to be patient.
— My prayer

We got to stay in a hotel, which thrilled me, because I just all around love the hotel/city life. A random side note is these flip flops I got—they were the only shoes I wore the whole weekend, and I absolutely love them. I picked them up super cheap at some JCPenney store I believe, and for the price they are very comfortable and add that sparkle I need to any outfit. :)

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Another random note is that I think it’s cool they have a Bible in the rooms like this. My brother asked me if I was going to read it, and while I didn’t get around to doing that, I think it’s nice that each room has that. It’s what people ultimately need, and cities often make me think of where different people are at in their lives. Everyone needs Jesus, though, and everyone needs the hope He alone offers, so it is appropriate that they have that. It also reaffirmed my dream to have a job where I can (a) travel to various cities and (b) stay in hotels. I think some job in business communications would be good for me if my dream to be a millionaire author doesn’t work out ;D Luckily an English or communications degree can open doors for both, something I definitely am going to pursue.

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That night I did some really deep thinking and deep writing; I’ll have to share some of that in a later post because this one is already turning into a book. I had an awesome visit with everyone, though, and got to see my two fave girls!

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Headed back to the hotel

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I do love working in hotels

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Except I always get distracted with shopping :’)

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My dog while I was sick

The good news is that lately God has helped me get my thoughts aligned with His, which I am so thankful for; it was something I prayed over here. For example, I’ll use body image. That’s something I started struggling with heavily since entering high school, but God has been showing me just the encouragement I need to combat that unhealthy mindset. I read Kylie Bisutti’s book I’m No Angel and have also looked into her blog and interviews, and God has used her to help me immensely. She was a former Victoria’s Secret model who actually left the modeling industry to pursue her faith. The advice she gives about body image and the insight she has on that horrifying industry is exactly what I’ve needed to hear—and essentially what people have been trying to get through to me all along. But it finally clicked, and I’m so thankful. I’m actually learning to have godly confidence—not to be arrogant, but not to always put myself down, either. Going off the example of body image, just because I see another pretty girl doesn’t mean that I am not, necessarily. And that could be with anything: writing, school, etc. God is teaching me not to be so competitive and just to trust Him with opportunities in life. I’m very grateful for that.

Another fun thing—well, fun for the time being—was getting to go to Iowa City to consult with my jaw surgeons. That is unfortunately going to get worse before it gets better, but I was thrilled to check out Iowa City since I’d never been before, and I got to go shopping, so for right now it’s all fun and games, and for right now, just let me stay in denial, thank you.

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So when it comes to the Hawkeyes vs. Cyclones debate, I’m personally a Cyclones fan, haha. Which is totally against, like, everyone in my family… But for whatever reason, ever since I’ve been little, I’ve wanted to go to Iowa State. My grandma and I have had some fun trips over there to this one bookstore I love and just driving by the campus, which I am convinced is the prettiest. But we’ll see… Iowa is known for its writing program, so I might convert… Might…..

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Kinnick Stadium, home of the Hawkeyes

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My mom and I walked around for a little bit after my appointment, which went very well. The downtown and traffic was actually dead for whatever reason, but I know Mom was in heaven because she had been terrified about the driving.

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Then we went to the mall of course :)

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I got these adorable stationary items my mom picked out for me that I can’t wait to add to my collection and a tee from PINK.

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So I suppose I should also talk a little bit about driving. Well, I was stressed to the max every single time, but again, God remained faithful. I did have one traumatic moment… All I will say is that I-80 sucks, but I passed thank God, so I’m more than happy for that part of my life to be over.

And here is Kylie’s book that I got signed!!! She is so sweet and such an inspiration in faith. I would recommend her book to any girl; it sheds so much insight on a world that is portrayed as being glamorous when the reality is far from.

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Another thing we did as a family was attend an Iowa Wild hockey game with some of the Minnesota Wild players in it. Unfortunately my fave Zach Parise couldn’t come see me but whatever… Oh my gosh I don’t even remember if I told you all this, but I actually got to see him!!! Last December, he came down to play with the Iowa Wild for a night to see how he was recovering from an injury, so of course we got tickets on a whim because Zach Parise coming to Des Moines is an opportunity one should never pass up. SO I GOT TO SEE HIM!!!!! <3 I went down by the glass with my brother, and we were so close to the players. He actually waved at this little kid next to me, but of course I got nothing… :’) And Mom with all her practicality of course was like “well he’s married so why would he wave to some teen girl?” Well, some actors have been known for teasing their fans even if they don’t actually mean it, so he could have still winked at me but again, whatever. ;D

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Zach Parise <3

Well anyway I hope he never reads that… The game was still a blast, though, as they always are, and I know Mom enjoyed me badgering her for food and to take my picture by this window I’m in love with because all.the.city.lights.

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This is really random, but I think this bridge would be a good place to be proposed to on. Maybe, I don’t know? I’d really like to walk it sometime, I know that much, and for whatever reason it just seems like an ideal location for that.

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I also want to go driving around at night in Des Moines just to see the lights, which may or may not be a good idea, who knows, but I’ll definitely be having someone drive me haha…

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I’ve loved the fall weather these past months, and one night we got to have a bonfire.

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Willy has also been doing a good job hunting. <3

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It’s also worth mentioning that I embarrassed my mom with this picture in the middle of the grocery store aisle. ;)

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And though you can’t see it very well in this picture below, over the summer I got this strawberry pink winter coat that I adore:

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AND these booties that Mom thought were quite obnoxious, but once I saw them I knew I had to have them… :) I am SPARKLES by Ashlee after all!

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I also want to start trying makeup haha. I bought a lot last year but never use it because I’m too lazy to get up in the mornings to do it. I’m also unsure of exactly what type of makeup I should use…like blush, foundation, bronzer…? I know a lot of girls are way more knowledgeable about this than me, so leave me recommendations please! :) My mom was trying to put some mascara on me in the below picture, but I can’t hold still because I thought my eye was going to be gouged out, so I ended up wiping it off and then taking this mirror picture like the conceited girl I am. :’) But seriously, leave me makeup recommendations that don’t break the bank please, and I’ll let you all know how that process of me doing makeup turns out…

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But I ALSO HAD ONE OF THE BIGGEST HAIR WINS OF MY LIFE… You know, God is very good at surprising me with the little things, and He totally did with this. I left my hair in that bun pictured above and slept in it like that, and then the next morning I pulled it out and got my dream blowout hair… It didn’t last long, but if I would’ve used hairspray then we might’ve been onto something… I took about two thousand pictures of myself with it, because oh my word, it made my day. I’ve wanted curls like this since I watched Big Time Rush as a kid and saw some blonde with curls like this…

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I also got a whole stash of pink ornaments I’ll be putting in my room eventually, because my room can always use some more pink as you can see! :D

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My mom and I also got to spend a nice day together for an appointment. We want to go to an Altoona outlet mall in November for some Christmas shopping, and I’m thrilled for that. Getting Mom to shop with me is a hard job but is always worthwhile!

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And so of course while we were in the city we did do just a little of this…

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And I think this recaps about everything. I would love to hear from all of you now: what have you been up to lately? What are you struggling with that I can pray about/write about? What future posts do you want me to write? I love and appreciate your feedback, and thank you so much for following along with my thoughts and adventures! xo

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How Racing is Like Life Part 2

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Knoxville Nationals 2k18

Last night *at the time this post was wrote* I had a blast with my family and some friends of my dad's attending the Nationals at Knoxville. I posted a lot of photos on my story (yes...I actually got back on Snapchat, just to have some sort of social media that can help me interact with people my age; my username is "sparklesbyablog"). I got a request to do a recap of the night, so I was thrilled to do that. And when I thought about this post, I thought back to my old racing blog post where I talked about what can be learned from sprint car racing about life. So I thought I would follow up on that post and add some more life lessons I'm learning, since after all, that post was written three years ago... Read the first part here!

With that being said, I wasn't sure at first if I actually had any new lessons to share. Our nights at the races were pretty much the same, though just as fun, so what more could I really have to say about it? Well, the more I thought about it, I thought I was only 12 when I wrote that first post, and now I'm 15, so there are definitely more things I pick up on than when I was 12. Yeah, it was like this one time when I was 12, I watched this horribly cheesy movie about high school, and I knew it had some dirty references at the time. Then one night a couple months ago I was bored and saw that it was prime on Amazon, so I thought well, I'll watch it again and see if my opinion had changed. Well, it didn't, but I was traumatized, because there were so many references that went way over my head when I was 12, and they are so bad I'm not even going into them...

Anyway! This post is not about that train-wreck of a movie. So, life lessons, beyond the fact that if you hated a movie when you were 12, you probably won't change your mind at 15. I definitely had a lot of fun at Knoxville as I always do, but this time there was something different about it. You know how I talked about you just pick up on more when you're older? That's basically what happened to me. I started seeing themes that I didn't like. It wasn't that the races necessarily promote those themes; it's just how people act and was evident at any event I've been to, like the Cyclones football game or hockey games.

I'll go more in depth on that, on just the culture of our society. I also learned some lessons on dealing with insecurity and comparison. And then some about being humble, too. These lessons may not be learned directly from sprint car racing so much as they are just being at the races, because when you go to events like these, you expect them to be all fun, right? Of course you do, and of course they usually are. But you'd be kidding yourself if you don't get moments of reality in there, too.

They're different for each person, but for me that might look like we're walking around, and all of a sudden I see this girl who I think is really pretty, and then I'm insecure and thinking of all the things she has that I don't. It's a fleeting moment, or a fleeting thought, but it just goes to show you that these events can't be an escape because eventually you have to deal with your inner insecurities. I'll talk about those. But I'll also show you what we did, too, so let's get into it.

We walked around for awhile to begin with, and it was insanely busy, but Nationals usually is. We went to the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and then ate nearby. There is a lot to see as many people sell various things like clothing. I found this cute place and snagged a t-shirt I can't wait to wear.

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I loved the bag ;)

I wasn't as hungry as I usually am because I wasn't feeling the best due to a wonderful girl thing, but I did get my favorite chicken and the cookies sent straight from heaven I'm pretty sure. ;)

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I really enjoy the time spent with family. What I'm learning is just to enjoy and live in each moment instead of getting lost in my thoughts that lead me to want worldly things and not appreciate what God has put and blessed me with right in front of me. But stay tuned; I'll go more in depth on this in one of the lessons.

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The night itself stretched out pretty long, but the final race was intense and awesome to watch. I love how they had fireworks going on at the beginning of the race.

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Once it was done, we went into the pits as usual. I was dying to see this new puppy that a friend of my dad's had recently got, so when I heard that he was there I couldn't contain my excitement. He was adorable, and it was hilarious because he was chasing my brother around trying to bite his shoes!

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Mom and I usually just follow the boys around the pits as Hunter got pictures with some drivers, and I got a picture with one of my favorites, too. Then on the way home, we had to stop and get gas, and Mom got a Dr. Pepper for my dad, but look at the bottle—one of the best I've seen:

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On the way home, my phone was nearly dead, but there were some thoughts on my heart that were making me want to explode, and my mood was somewhat in a daze as I was contemplating different observations. So the good that came out of that was that I finally wrote on my novel in the notes section of my phone as it was on 1%, hahaha. It made it, though, while I finished! In fact I think it made it all the way home while I listened to Spotify, so phone of the year award. I had these thoughts that were perfect for the scenes in the middle of my book, but suddenly the inspiration just hit me, and I've learned from trial and error that when that happens, I need to write it down as soon as possible or it will be gone. So I'm really glad I got to do that, it really gave me the boost I needed in my writing. I typically write my novels in order, from chapter one to the end, but if I get a great idea for the climax and the inspiration is there, I won't NOT write it. In the past I used to be so OCD about going out of order, but then I realized if you don't write it then it's gone. I'll also talk about some of the thoughts I had as I get into the lessons learned from the night.


Lessons Learned from the Knoxville Nationals

Seeing all the people can inevitably lead to comparison.

In racing, just like in everything else, I can only imagine that it's really easy to compare your team to other people and how you're doing. I may not be able to relate to that, but I can to comparing because I compare myself to just about everything. At the Nationals, sometimes when we're walking around, as I mentioned above, I compare myself to how other girls look or dress. Or if they steal my look a-like. ;) Haha just kidding, although one of my look a-likes was with a girl when I spotted him. (By the way, if you don't know who my look a-likes are, read this post. Even though I call them MY look a-likes, they don't look like me, haha.) I didn't find any look a-likes at the Nationals unfortunately, but I usually don't because it's just too busy. But back to comparison. It's something I'm slowly learning to let go of. How am I doing that? At first I honestly didn't know if I even had any advice to offer on this one since sometimes I fall into the trap and don't know how to get out. But I am realizing there's a way out, and it's not the cliche advice you hear.

You know the kind I'm talking about probably. Like how you just have to STOP comparing and appreciate who you are or that comparison is pointless. That advice is true even if it is cliche, and if it works for you, that's great. But if you get cynical like me and hate cliches, haha, you might need to go deeper.

When I'm trying to think through something, first I have to vent. It's hard to let go of something if you can't even acknowledge something is there (more on that in this post). I try to always vent to God, but I'll be honest, sometimes I feel embarrassed doing that or just don't know how to put my thoughts into words to tell Him, so then what I'll do is just write it out in my notes and then pray over it. That helps a lot. Then I can continue writing about what to do with those thoughts because obviously I can't just let them sit there; I have to learn from them. So when I felt feelings of comparison coming in, I first just wrote those out. I'll spare you the whininess of that rant, but here's what I concluded from it: "I know I'm insatiable, that even if I had...[everything I wanted] I still wouldn't be complete. So I have to be conscious of that and keep turning to Jesus. And just enjoy the right now and tell Him these thoughts instead of obsessing over them."

I can't even begin to count the number of situations where the people who look like they have it all end up in tragic situations where they're in rehab, or they committed suicide, or they got into trouble with the law, or they did drugs, or they just can't make themselves happy. No amount of money or good looks or whatever it is you want can buy you happiness. If you're not happy without it, you won't be happy with it. That's why you learn to rely on Jesus alone to meet your needs. It's a really beautiful thing when you fully submit yourself to Him and don't feel that need of having to fill a void. Of course you still have wants, but they don't consume you. Anything you get is just an added blessing in life that pales in comparison to knowing Him. That's how I want to live. I've done that before, so I know it's possible. It really is all about what you focus on. That's why I wrote that out as soon as possible so it wouldn't be following me around all night. I have to learn to let go and trust God.

You have a choice on whether you want to follow a crowd or be a light.

I've noticed this at every event I attend, from hockey games to football games to the races, and definitely more so as I've gotten older. It's the fact that our culture glorifies things like drinking and partying, at every age, and I think that's really sad. You should've seen the line for the alcohol at the race; it was absolutely insane. But I often think that says a lot about us, like wow, here we're at some nice event which is in and of itself supposed to be fun and entertaining, and we STILL feel the need to drink? It just goes to show that no amount of things or "moments" (because now society is big on experiences and living with no regrets...) can satisfy us. If they did, it should be enough that you're even there and able to enjoy time with family or friends, but nope. People still feel the need to get drunk and party like they're 20. And yeah, you might say that drinking is part of the fun, but why does it have to be? Why isn't it enough just to enjoy the night for what it is?

There's no good reason or excuse to hide what's obvious, that people still feel the need to escape reality, because no amount of events or partying can heal a heart with pain. On the way home as I was writing some of those scenes for my book, a song came up on my Spotify country station called "Drunk Me." I have to admit, I did enjoy the song, the tune and all, but the lyrics basically reiterated everything I previously thought. The lyrics went really well with the story of my book though, so I added it to the playlist for my book, haha.

But the point of my scenes for my book, of any blog post I write, is truly just to encourage you to live for Jesus because He alone heals the brokenness of a heart. I've been thinking a lot lately about what overarching theme I'm most passionate about when it comes to my faith. There are so many messages I wish to share that it's hard to just focus on one, and I want to focus on more than one, but there are a lot of Christian pastors or leaders who focus on multiple messages, but then they sort of have their one message that defines them because that's the one they're most passionate about or knowledgable about, etc. For example, David Jeremiah, a pastor I really like, hits on many different topics of the Christian faith, but he's also known for his emphasis on Revelation and the end times.

When I think about what that may be for me, if I do have an area or topic that I keep coming back to, I think I've finally figured out what it is: the brokenness of people and our need for a Savior. Every time I go somewhere where I'm surrounded by masses of people, this melancholy feeling comes over me, and I'm left wondering about each of the people I see, what their stories may be, what their life is like, how they think and feel, if they know Jesus. I wonder what's on their heart late in the night. And I always think about the whole message of being a light and ministering to other people's brokenness, how one person can affect this person, and that person can affect this person, and there's this whole revival over a broken world. That's what keeps coming back to me, and all of my interests and goals seem to align with that central message. It's why I love writing so much. It's why psychology is so fascinating to me and gets me fired up, you get to study how people think and feel and why they behave why they do. It's the essence of being human. It's why I was so interested in prison ministry.

That's something I've finally been realizing, is this deep desire I have to minister to broken hearts. And you don't think you can find that at an event where it's supposed to be fun, fun, fun, but I've learned that's where you seem to find the most brokenness because that's where people go to escape. And it's NOT bad to go to fun events. It's just about your behavior and motives. It's unhealthy to want to escape from reality in the form of getting drunk or partying. Even something harmless like an event like this can be unhealthy if you have the wrong motives for going. I understand that sometimes you just need a break, but needing a break and needing an escape are two different things. And I think that's what people need to be more conscious of.

Lastly, when you are victorious in life, it's so important to remember who deserves the glory.

It also saddens me when people do really well, but you don't hear any mention of God. He's the One who ultimately gives us anything, our talents, skills, etc. So He deserves and will get the glory. One thing I do love about Knoxville is how they pray before every race. I have a lot of respect for that because it just goes to show that of course even as a Christian you can still have fun, but when you're having fun, you don't have to leave God out of it. It's so important to remember God in both the good and bad times. He's the One who gives to you and strengthens you. That's something I've known, but it was a good reminder for me not to become lazy in my relationship with Him. Like any relationship, the effort you put into it is what you will get out of it. And God is no different. James 4:8 says that if we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us. I can tell when I'm being lazy and when I'm really pursuing Him, and it makes all the difference. Of course, He's with me no matter what, regardless of what I do, but being conscious of that is what I have to remember.

Like I mentioned earlier, these lessons are more learned by attending a race versus lessons actually learned from the sport. For lessons along those lines, read my first post here. I had a blast at the Nationals, though, and have enjoyed all the memories made from attending Knoxville races over the years and the lessons learned. Have you ever been to the Nationals? What was your experience like?

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The Most Inspiring Music, Movies, and Books That I Love

Around three years ago I did a blog post talking about all of my favorite books that I also found to be really inspiring with life and faith. They were some of my favorite books as well at the time and still are; you can read all about them here! But now it's been around three years since then, and I've had the privilege of discovering a whole genre of music I was oblivious to, various movies that I found inspiring, and of course, more great books! I figured I would share some of my favorites that are also what I think are meaningful; entertainment can be meaningful! In fact, I really think it should be. I have yet to really blog about music before, except for a couple songs in this post here, or movies, so I'm excited to include them on this list as well! Most of these are distinctly Christian of course, but there may be a few on here that are more secular but still have elements of inspiration or faith.

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Music

Okay, so I was oblivious to this whole genre of music known as Christian contemporary music. And it's basically just how it sounds. I always thought that Christian music only consisted of, like, hymns, which I loved but were probably not going to end up on any playlists of mine for, like, everyday things. But enter the world of Christian contemporary music! I BECAME OBSESSED. I love pop music, which basically that's what this is, a modernized version of songs with just as powerful messages as the ones in hymns. I have tons of songs I've found that I love. Here are some of my faves:

"Battles" by The Afters: talks about God fighting your problems and is a great message for anyone going through anything. It has really helped me when I've had particular problems that seem recurring and like they don't go away. It's that boost of encouragement that God is fighting for you, even if you can only see the little things. It's really good, definitely one of my favorites.

"His Name" by Urban Rescue: another one of my favorites that kinda goes along with the song above. This one really goes over personal hurts, and this is very powerful for whenever you may feel depressed or broken about life. There's a lot of people I wish I could forward this one to, so definitely check it out. It's that quiet yet beautiful reminder that whatever you're going through, you're not alone. God will be with you and He alone can heal the despair in your heart.

"Afraid" by Tenth Avenue North: a great reminder for someone like me who worries and obsesses about literally everything, with a great, upbeat tune. It makes me nostalgic because I remember myself in eighth grade and all the things I worried about and how when I found this song, it was just what I needed to hear. Listen to it often; it's a good one.

"Runaway" by The Afters: I found this one working on my latest novel, and not only does it resonate with one of my characters (yes I have songs that go specifically with make believe people; welcome to the life of a writer), it is really good for anyone hurting inside, feeling unloved or unworthy, or anything along those lines. I don't know if this one specifically addresses faith like the above do, but The Afters are really good, and this song is very truthful and can be applied to the faith easily.

"Miracles" by Jesus Culture: WELCOME TO MY FAVORITE CHRISTIAN SONG OF ALL TIME. This song is slow and quiet, building into more power towards the end, but that really gets the mood and message of this song perfectly. I found this song at a time in my life where I felt very broken about the brokenness of other people and our world in general. It was a soft, moving reminder of how God can and will work through that in soft, moving ways, if that makes sense. It's the little things He does, the probing and convicting and soul searching, that are what changes people's hearts and therefore their lives, and this song beautifully portrays His power.

"Relentless" by Hillsong United: talk about a powerful, urgent message: the message of God's overwhelming, relentless love. The only thing that can change a person's life. Everyone should listen to this song! It's just perfect in every way!

"Because of Your Love" by Chris Quilala: I really like Chris Quilala, and this song by him does not disappoint. This is one of those songs that makes you envision people who really need to hear it, and it just makes you want to forward it to them with an urgency. For anyone who feels unworthy of God's love or who just needs the reminder of it (and don't we all), this is the song for you.

"Forgiven" by Sanctus Real: this is a song I've had to listen to often, as I am truly my own worst enemy when it comes to my relentless perfectionism and thinking I don't deserve things, much less God's love. But this song reiterates what the Bible's core message really is: that Jesus has taken all of our sins and done away with them; we are completely forgiven through Him. I love this one.

"When I'm With You" by Citizen Way: another song that is really special to me. During eighth grade, I had these recurring problems, and remember how I talked about getting my bad thought life and defiant attitude in this post here? Well, this is when some of my defiance really started to flare up, and I began to have these doubts due to my impatience with God's timing (surprise, haha, we all know what a patient person I am—NOT). But of course I didn't want to actually tell God any of this because I think sometimes there's this unspoken message sent by Christians that, well, you don't tell Him your doubts, or your frustrations, and I'm that type of person who is very guarded, and so telling GOD felt very scary. But this song...you just have to listen to it. It's just perfect. If this doesn't spark your prayer life to be completely authentic and vulnerable with God—which IS what He DESIRES from you—I don't know what will. It helped me learn that I can be real with God, that He can take it, and it won't lessen His love for me. In fact, through being honest with Him, even when I don't like it, that's how He can mold me and shape me into becoming better. So thankful for Him and our relationship, it really is the only one that counts... <3

"Love So High" by Hillsong Worship: a beautiful song about the love of God. This would be a good one to fall asleep to, and I've listened to it whenever I need to give my heart a break from the strain and stress of the world. Because seriously people, THIS is what matters in life. To know that God loves you completely. When you learn this—REALLY learn it—it completely changes the way you live your life. Because suddenly it's not all about YOU, because YOU know that YOU are taken completely care of in God. And it makes you filled to the brim with a desire to go tell people this, because what a world that would be... It's the only thing that can save a person's broken heart. But more on this in a book I'll share later in this post...

"Start a Fire" by Unspoken: I love this song because it reminds me of my desire to be a light and help people. Many of these songs were discovered at this time I talk about in this post here, and they were really special to me at that time and still have helped me immensely.

"Say a Prayer" by VERIDIA: another inspiring message about the brokenness of the world but how God can help each of those people and how we have an active role in prayer to help those people. Seriously, don't ever underestimate the power of praying for someone. This song is a great reminder of that.

"At the Cross (Love Ran Red)" by Chris Tomlin: a beautiful song about all Jesus did for us on the cross, THE most important message there is to share. I even wrote some blog posts all about that, here is one over what He did for YOU.

"Real Love" by Hillsong Young & Free: talk about a song that will get you fired up over God's love! I love this one.

"Here for a Reason" by Ashes Remain: okay just when I say this is my favorite Christian song, then I will find another one and be like, NO, this is it! Either way, this one is definitely top of my list. I even shared this for a music class I had to take in middle school in eighth grade because we had to find a song that means something to us. Well, I don't know if it gets any better than this, and it couldn't have come at a more right time for me than when it did: this song is all about knowing your worth and purpose in life. Another urgent message.

"Fierce" by Jesus Culture: like I said, I love Chris Quilala, and he's the singer of this song for Jesus Culture, and this is just another beautiful song that illustrates God's love. I love everything about this one, from the lyrics to the tune to just everything about it.

"Keeper of My Heart" by Kari Jobe: Kari Jobe is a beautiful singer, another fave of mine. And this song is beautiful. I listened to this my first week of starting eighth grade, and based on my feelings which you can read about here, it was the perfect reminder on how God is taking care of me, including the deepest needs of my heart.

"Forever" by Kari Jobe: this song is absolutely beautiful and perfect; it's one of the first Christian songs that really touched my heart in a way I'd never felt before. I can remember exactly where I heard it and why it was so special to me, too. Well, I first heard it at a Christian retreat I recapped here, but I was inspired to look it up again during the summer of 2016, at my grandparents' house, after hearing about a situation that absolutely shattered my heart. Sometimes in broken situations, the only thing that can really give you peace is to know that God is bigger than any of it, and He has conquered and done the impossible, and He can oversee it. Plus you just have to take your eyes off of certain situations like that and focus on Him. That is the only thing that can give you peace with some things—well, with anything, but sometimes you just really need that reminder. And this song was perfect for that.

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Movies

As much as I like to watch movies, I've often found that movies and TV are much harder to find when it comes to having good, inspirational messages. But I have found some good ones.

The Grace Card: I really like the message in this one, and it has an engaging plot. It's about dealing with bitterness and learning how to forgive, something that I definitely need the reminder of.

Grace Unplugged: this may be one of my most favorite Christian films, ever. I think this one hit close to home for me because it's about this girl who feels like she's being sheltered when it comes to her dreams by her parents, and maybe she somewhat is (that's not what I'm talking about when I say it was relatable though haha), but then she decides to abandon her faith and take matters into her own hands by going to Hollywood, pursuing a music career. I've often felt similar desires of wanting to take my own dreams big like that, and I've been guilty of craving the fame and fortune aspects of it. But I really liked how this movie offered a truthful insight on how that life isn't all it's cracked up to be. I also have the book that ties in with it, which is also wonderfully done.

I've seen some other good Christian films, but I don't know if they were my all time favorites like these ones were, just due to some inconsistencies or other small things like that. And I'm by no means a big TV person, so I don't really know of any inspirational TV shows, but if you have any recommendations, feel free to comment!

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Books

My favorite of them all... I have quite a few new ones to add to the list!

God Loves You by David Jeremiah: EVERYONE in the WHOLE WORLD needs to read this book. I'm not exaggerating at all. There are some books I've read that have changed MY life, but I know they wouldn't have that same effect on everyone. But this one... Wow. I don't care who you are, you really need to read it. It's one of the most urgent messages you could ever hear: the truth of God's perfect, unfailing love. I also love David Jeremiah's writing style. I've read various Christian nonfiction books by some different pastors, but I think his is my favorite. He has a way of being scholarly while still being understandable for people who aren't as into that. And if you ever read a book in your life, even if it's just one, it really should be this one. It is literally a whole book on God's love, and whatever you think you know about His love, this book will stretch your knowledge of it. I promise. Plus, one thing I really liked about it, is that he goes over some of the commandments and rules that God has set for us and how those reflect His love toward us. Because yes, you can be loving while still having boundaries and rules, something this society has forgotten. Rules are meant to protect you, and he talks about that more in the book. He also talks about some hot issues in society, like abortion, and where God fits into those and even how His love applies to that. Seriously, you just have to read this book. It's over the most urgent message this world needs. I also have a blog post about God's love for you here.

Ten Questions Christians are Asking by David Jeremiah: like I said, he's a great writer, and I read multiple books by him during eighth grade. This was another really good one of his. I bring a free reading book to all of my classes just in case, and I remember one time I had it just sitting out on my desk, and one of my teachers asked me if they could read a summary of it, so of course I was like go for it. With some of my teachers, I may know them outside of school or have heard enough to know that they are Christians, but then there are others where I don't think they are, just because of little things I pick up on that say otherwise. And this was one of those teachers where I didn't know where they stood in faith, but if I would've had to guess I would've said probably not. But I won't forget how there seemed to be this genuine curiosity in it, almost like that type of soul searching you hear that people do. And I just wanted to say, READ THE BOOK! You will LOVE it. Because the truth is, the questions in this book aren't JUST asked by Christians. They're a great introduction to the foundation of the Christian faith, questions like how you can find forgiveness or is there an unforgivable sin? In all honesty, that's why I bought the book, is because I wanted to know about an unforgivable sin—if there was one. Remember my worry about that I talk about in this post? Anyway, I just loved this book; the answers are far from generic. He answers each question thoroughly and precisely. I highly recommend it. And like I said, this is another one that is good for anyone: people with no faith or people with a serious faith.

Fifteen Minutes by Karen Kingsbury: this book reminded me a lot of a story kind of like the movie Grace Unplugged. It is about a guy with a very strong faith in Jesus, and he has a great singing talent. Anyway, he tries out to be on this singing show—called Fifteen Minutes—and his family is worried about what his new life of fame may do to him and his faith. I don't want to spoil anything, but I'll just say that it was something I needed to hear. I oftentimes find myself with a rather innocent desire like this kid—to be famous so you be a light for Jesus to as many people as possible—but that innocent desire can easily turn into something worse and bring bad consequences. It really shows you how the world of fame isn't all people dream of. I liked this one a lot.

Disappointment with God by Philip Yancey: a book I got at my retreat, I have to be honest with you: I don't remember as much about this one. It was two years ago I read it, BUT I do remember really, really liking it. It answers the tough questions people press against God in what I remember to be both theological and relatable, and it made me think of things I have never thought of before. And I actually shouldn't say I don't remember this book because there are some parts I do, because it shifted some of the ways I thought about God—in a good, more informative way. The one thing I will say about this book though is that I had my mom read it after me, and she wasn't as big of a fan of it because she thought it was a little too scholarly/theological than what she normally looks for, and I agree. Though I was like, oh I thought it was perfect to understand—BUT eleven year old and younger me also read through Revelation and thought that was easy to understand, so! I later found out how wrong I was, and sometimes I think I just act like I get the gist of things and I don't, so make what you want of that!

But in all seriousness, I did pick up on the fact that he does have a different style, and he's definitely more theological/scholarly than David Jeremiah; Philip Yancey requires more thought to be put into what he is saying, if that makes sense. It's not so much that he is smarter or anything because they're both very insightful; I think their styles are just different. But if you really like to dig deep into theological, deep matters like he does, then I think you would really like this. I loved it, personally, but I really like going deeply into things and having to concentrate on what I'm reading. However, my mom said there was a part near the end she really liked, where he basically summarizes everything he goes in depth into in the book, and so if these are questions you struggle with, I still think you should give this a read because you may find some good insight from it.

Wow, I think that does it! I'm so thankful I get the opportunity to learn and be inspired in my faith through other talented people. Let me know if you check out any of the things I listed and what you think!! Also feel free to send me recommendations! :)

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