Head over Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An Honest Post: Me and My Thought Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reflecting on My Favorite Quotes {Anxiety}

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My dog and I enjoying the nice weather

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

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

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

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

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

1. It is only temporary.

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

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

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

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

2. Take it one day at a time.

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

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

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

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

4. Anxiety does not come from God.

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

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

5. Lastly, try to put anxiety in perspective.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ashlee Mae

Finding Yourself | My Middle School Journey

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

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

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

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

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5th Grade

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

Hard work will get you far.

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

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

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

Find your niche.

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

You'll meet some amazing people.

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

Being liked for your character is the most important thing.

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

Success is found through your character.

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

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

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Getting a dog is a great idea.

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

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6th Grade

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

Not everyone will turn out how you expected.

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

Popularity is shallow and temporary.

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

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

People will leave.

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

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Know your purpose.

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

Learn your worth and own your gifts.

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

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

Write about what you're passionate about.

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

You'll be under credited.

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

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

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

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Know that greater things await you.

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

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Sometimes life seems scary.

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

Rejection is part of life.

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

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

2014 Basketball

An Honest Post: Me at School

Writers Observe

Rejected

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7th Grade

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

God will meet your needs.

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

Your interests will change and that's okay.

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

Stick up for what you believe in.

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

Glory is short.

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

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

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

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

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

Life is too short to be with the wrong people. 

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

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

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

Be able to defend your beliefs.

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

Be grateful for what you have.

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

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

A Prayer About 7th Grade

Show It

Revisiting My Honest Post Over School

How to Overcome Feeling Alone

Living Your Faith: I Will Not Chill Out

Persevering

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8th Grade

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

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

Don't be afraid to try something new.

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

God will provide for you.

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

Grades aren't everything.

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

God can do anything.

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

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Give yourself grace.

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

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Teenagers need authenticity from adults.

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

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Teenagers need someone to care about them.

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

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Make the time to renew your mind.

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

People notice how you act.

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

You'll never regret doing the right thing.

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

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Your choices affect everything whether you like it or not.

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

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

Caring about people and their stories is immensely important.

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

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

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

Care about people's sufferings.

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

Being empathetic is a great quality to learn.

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

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

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

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There's nothing wrong with being sensitive.

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

Don't stress the future.

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

Let yourself dream.

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

Evil won't win.

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

Tell your story.

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

Through the rain comes the rainbow.

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

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

Thank you all for reading mine.... xx

Darkest Hour, Brightest Hope

Sometimes all the lights go out in your life.

There doesn't seem to be any hope.

Nothing can satisfy you.

Everything hurts.

The world seems hopeless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they did. Because of the fun.

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But more because of what I learned.

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

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

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

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

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I witnessed firsthand people in pain. So much pain.

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

Temporarily.

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

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

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

Pain needs to be addressed. I learned that.

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

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

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

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

That's how I found this amazing Bible verse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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