How to Love People and Show Mercy

So this post has been a really long time coming, since I first wrote down some thoughts on how to show mercy to people clear back on November 28, 2016. So two years later I'm finally getting around to writing this post... ;)

This is definitely an urgent message, though, that of how to love people, especially when that doesn't come naturally to you or isn't one of your spiritual gifts. What I mean by that is we all have our own strengths and weaknesses. Some people are actually really good at being patient, but obviously you know that's one of my weaknesses. The same is true with showing unconditional love and forgiveness. Some people are better at it than others. That doesn't mean they do it perfectly, but for some, it just may be one of those things they've either been blessed with or have worked hard to grow at. For example, I think my grandma has this gift of loving and forgiving people. Does that mean she does it perfectly all the time? No, she'll even admit to that. But I still really admire her desire to see the best in people and her recognition of all people as people God longs to save.

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No matter how good you are with forgiveness and unconditional love, this post, I'm hoping, will still be able to speak to you. Before I go into what I've learned about how to do it, I'll tell you how good I tend to be with doing these two things, from an honest perspective and not just what I hope I do, haha. I'll also tell you why forgiving and loving people IS NOT OPTIONAL and why it is so crucial.

Forgiving and loving people is not optional for a Christian.

In one of my Bible studies, I remember I read something very convicting. It was a chapter about loving the unlovable—literally what it was called in the book I was reading—and the author was listing Bible verses that show how loving others is the most important command for a Christian, second only to loving God. So... I basically sighed in my head because my attitudes on people lately have been far from loving, so I knew I had to change. But lots of time, of course, loving people is one of those things easier said than done. But that's why I'm writing this!

Anyways, here are the verses she had that prove loving people isn't a choice:

Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”‘
— Matthew 22:37-39 NIV

There's also this verse about forgiveness:

But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
— Matthew 6:15 NIV

So it's definitely not optional. And I would bet that most people wish that wasn't the case. I think nowadays we live in a very apathetic, bitter society where loving unconditionally and extending grace are not the norms. Look at the media and how grown adults behave towards each other. Look at the crime rates. Look at the overall brokenness. You know the reason most people are broken? I would be willing to bet it's a lack of love. Not always. But I would bet that's the main reason why people are so depressed in this society. And even though we have people that may say they love us, I think nowadays with the shifting and creation of new media, we don't even know what authentic love is anymore. But we as Christians are defined by the way we love other people (John 13:35).

How good am I with forgiving/loving unconditionally?

So I promised I'd share where I think I fall on the spectrum of forgiving and loving people. I feel like it depends on the day. ;) Some days I feel more compassionate than others, but I will say that I have the tendency to be overly judgmental. In a society where people want to think anything goes, I feel like I’ve almost had to be, because there are behaviors that should not be tolerated. With that being said, God has opened up my eyes to see that behind those behaviors are people who need Him just as much as I do, and He loves them just as much as me. Because of that, I feel like I’ve been able to be more empathetic, but it can definitely be a challenge giving people grace in the real world.

The secret, I’ve found, that has changed the game for me is not to look at people’s behavior but to their heart. When you look at someone’s behavior and how bad it may be, that is not going to help you at all when it comes to loving them. I think some people naively believe that if we love people, we can just sweep their behavior under the rug, but I disagree. Bad behavior doesn’t need to be excused even when you’re loving someone because what’s sin is still sin. I think this is where I struggled, is because I felt like to love someone, you had to be okay with everything they did in life. But that’s far from true. True love extends to the people who have done some of the worst things, and true love will not say it is okay. And I wanted to emphasize this, about how bad it is that someone acts a certain way, but then I realized something else about love.

What I’ve learned is that yes, you can condemn someone’s bad behavior, but then what are you going to do? Where is it going to get you? We still have to get along with people. You can scream at people and condemn them all you want, but it won’t change someone’s heart. The only thing that can do that is love, God’s love. And we are commanded to display that love through the way we live (John 13:35).

So back to looking at people’s hearts. I’ve found it helps if you think deeper than their behavior. If they behave badly, WHY? Is it possible that there are underlying hurts they’re running from, hence causing them to act that way? Behind every person who behaves darkly lies some inner pain. That’s NOT to say this just makes their behavior okay. But pain is easier to empathize with, and it can show you more of an understanding behind why someone behaves poorly, and you can also see your own inner darkness, which gives you the potential to be the same way. That helps you to better relate to that person and display God’s redeeming love all the more. Think of them with needs and desires just like you that have probably gotten perverted along the way. Because we all have those. And that really is one of the main causes for any sin, is a perversion of some desire.

How did I learn this? The main thing for me was being able to see firsthand that my salvation is truly a gift from God, and that without His grace alone to do that, I could have been just as “bad” as someone else. Take prison ministry, for instance. Not a lot of people would be too keen on going into that because most people don’t have a lot of mercy for criminals. And while their behavior is absolutely not acceptable, we forget that they are still people God loves and created. We have the same potential to do bad things, and besides, knowing God shows you that everyone does bad things, regardless of the severity, and are still in need of His salvation (Romans 3:23). If I just see a crime story on the news with some random person, it’s easy to just dismiss them and condemn them. But one time there was a more local story, and the person who did it was a lot younger and not a typical “type” of person you would imagine to do what they had done. When I did some research on that, it really opened up my eyes to see how any person, even someone like me, can be successful in society and yet turn to the dark side, so to speak, when bad attitudes, pain, and selfishness go unchecked.

And that opened my eyes, because maybe, without God’s grace alone in helping me become better through my pain, I could’ve been just like them. Turning to bitterness, letting my pain rule me and cloud my judgment and do the same horrible things. EVERYONE has sin, and therefore everyone has the potential to do bad things like that.

It is only by the grace of God I'm not out there, dead in my sin, like some of those hardcore atheists or criminals—whatever it may be. Because we are all perfectly capable of that. And when you learn that tremendous gift you've been given, it really humbles you. It is only out of God's grace I'm saved. I could just as easily been an atheist, a criminal, whatever. Now that I've recognized that, I truly remember I'm not better than anyone. And it makes me desperate for the people who are dead in sin. We have to quit hating them and go reach out to them. God may just use the spark you send, the seed you plant, to save their life. And if you were in their position, wouldn't you want that?! It goes back to what I talked about in this post: how do you want people to remember you?

It is terribly frustrating when people don’t do what they know they should. But it’s also a gift to know what you’re supposed to be doing in the first place. And when you do know that, we cannot be shy in talking about it or exclusive in who we share it with. That is Jesus. He has put in us our sense of what is good and what is not—He defines goodness, after all, and He is love (1 John 4:8).

There is a Bible verse that says, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV). I have to be honest, when I was younger and read this, I did not like the idea of love being the most important. I wasn’t as mature about it as I am now—I cared much more about hope, for instance. Focusing on God to save me from all the other dumb people, is probably what I thought ;) And the same goes for faithfulness. I wanted to just focus on myself and my behavior and how good I could be. But thankfully God opened up my eyes. There’s more to life than living for yourself and your own faith. If you want to change the world, it has to be done through love. That’s the only way to do it. Because true love—God’s love—does not condone bad behavior, but it also does not disregard the hearts that struggle with it. And glory to Him for that. When I learned this, it’s filled me with that much more urgency, to be gentle and kind, because that is what people respond to. Being arrogant or trying to be right or more intelligent about a concept does not change a person’s heart. But true love does. It has the discernment to know when to be gentle and understanding, and when to be gentle and truthful.

I also feel like I need to define true love as God intends for us to have, and I really believe it is reflected most truly by cultivating the fruits of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). I’ve been striving to have all of those character traits—patience is one I am still working on desperately—but that is what I want people to think of when they think of me. I remember all of a sudden how one time in middle school at some assembly emphasizing kindness or something with character, I believe we did some activity where we had to write three traits about somebody we were assigned, and it could be good or bad—yikes. I remember for one of mine, someone wrote “gentle,” and that stood out to me because I didn’t understand what that meant and I was almost embarrassed by it.

Society thinks being gentle is a bad thing, but it’s not at all. It’s a beautiful thing, especially because not a lot of people have it. Being gentle doesn’t make you a pushover—having no boundaries or values does that. As you know about me, I am still very confident about my values and will not change them for anything, BUT being gentle means that even in spite of that, you can still be kind and loving while at the same time sticking up for what you believe in. This is what people are searching for most, I think, are people who are real about what matters in life and set in their values but are not mean about it. They have Jesus’ peace about life, and the sin that is so prevalent in the world does not steal their joy or love. And I’m not just saying this because I’m a female, either. Why do you think women are so attracted to guys when they see them doing sweet things like interacting with little kids? Because Jesus Himself was the most gentle person and yet also the most truthful person about what is good and true in life. It doesn’t make you any less masculine or feminine to be gentle—just all the more like Jesus for showing His love to people. (Seriously, I just watched a video of a hockey player I like doing something sweet for a little boy, and it melted my heart. #iwanttomarryhim)

I can also tell you so many stories about how I’ve done this at school and how I’ve seen it work like nothing else. This true love does not make you any less worthy as a person or take away your worth (like people think when they imagine it making you a pushover), instead, actually, it makes people have all the more respect for you. Like I said, I could tell you stories about how this has been true for me. Most of all, showing love to others pleases God, and that is what is most important.

If this is something you struggle with, don’t feel guilty. I’ve struggled with it as well—every person does. But as long as you have the desire to obey God and ask Him for help in this area, He promises to help you (James 1:5). He will give you the wisdom needed to do this.

It’s definitely not always easy to love people, and sometimes it feels overwhelming, but the key, really, is to know and love God because with that comes His wisdom and His love that He puts in your heart, and people can tell when this is present in a person. His love is what changes people’s hearts and can spark any change in the world.

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Disappointment | A Reflection

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I’m no psychologist (though I am taking advanced psych right now, which is everything I hoped it would be), but if I had to hypothesize about what distorts people’s minds the most in life, it’s disappointment and rejection. And by distortion, I mean the things that stay with you and have the potential to influence how you think and behave in a negative way. The things that stay with you and hurt you and give you the potential to hurt other people—if you let them, that is. Of course there is always the choice to overcome the bad things that have happened to you, but many people struggle with this, and I think especially so when it involves two of these feelings, which at many times overlap with one another.

I had something that happened to me recently that felt like one of the biggest letdowns. I’m sure we’ve all had those moments before; you look ahead to a certain moment or event and think it’s going to give you some sort of completeness and joy, and then something comes up and screws everything up. There are so many things in life that God has blessed us with to give us joy, but completeness is one of those things people have to be careful with because anytime someone expects something to fill one of their deepest needs, it literally invites disappointment. That’s why it’s so crucial to trust God with those deepest needs because He always delivers. I almost said that God will never disappoint, which IS true, but I have to be honest, there are times where it doesn’t feel that way. If we put life in perspective and look at the grand scheme of things, which I did upon getting some upsetting news that led to my disappointment, you get this beautiful view of life that examines it and says it doesn’t matter. Disappointments and rejection, that is, do not matter, not when you have God. He’s bigger and so much better than even the worst trial and can give you peace through literally anything. When you take time to calm your mind and conflicting emotions that arise in intense situations, you get that supernatural perspective.

However, emotions can feel paralyzing at times. I know when this event happened to me and I heard about it, I had to be strong for other people, and before I could even pray and process it myself, I actually did feel this sense of calm and peace that certainly came from God just when I needed it, and I had the strength needed to speak wisdom to others. I wish I felt that way all of the time, but being human and at times broken myself, that didn’t last forever. When the reality of it all had time to sink in, I was left with an overwhelming sense of emptiness. It felt debilitating. In fact, I remember feeling abandoned by God altogether, which tends to be the natural response whenever disappointment surfaces. That feeling, let me tell you, is one of the worst ever. It’s one thing to feel abandoned by people, but to feel abandoned by God makes you feel hopeless. So many of the Psalms talk about feeling abandoned by Him, though, so you’re not alone if you’ve ever felt that way and it doesn’t make you a bad person, AND most importantly it doesn’t mean that He actually has. He never leaves your side, though sometimes He lets us struggle with our emotions so that we can humble ourselves and grow closer to Him. I know it’s easy to wait for big, showy reactions from Him, but He works his greatest powers through even the seemingly most littlest things that end up working behind the scenes to coordinate things in your life that you don’t even comprehend. It does make you wonder how many things we take for granted that He’s worked behind the scenes on or how many things He currently is and you just have no idea.

I remember John Piper had a really good quote that I know is so true, about how God could be doing thousands of things in your life, and you are probably only aware of a couple of them.

I think that’s what we just have to remember in the midst of disappointment. It only tells one story. And it may seem heartbreaking, but you have to look at how some of the most inspiring and beautiful things in history have first started out looking depressing and irredeemable, but behind the scenes, God works everything together to make it beyond special. Look at the death and resurrection of Jesus Himself. Emotions can make us feel crippled, but tell yourself that God is greater. You don’t have to feel Him all of the time because feelings only tell a part of the story, too, and He’s there anyway. You get the strongest perseverance in life through those nights where all seems hopeless. The sooner you can learn that in life, the more peaceful, joyful, and mature you’re ultimately going to be.

There’s a song I heard recently that is not in any way associated with faith (so don’t get mad at me if my interpretation of the lyrics is way off hahahaha), called “Night Changes” by One Direction. I love One Direction, okay, and this song from what I gather talks about how a night can set off one way where you’re going on a date or something fun like that, and then something comes up that tries to ruin it. But the overall message seems to be that even when things come up and the night does change, it won’t change the relationship of the two people involved.

Like I said, hopefully I’m not way off on this and that song is not X-rated like one of my favorite songs of theirs when I was at the ripe age of 10 and had no clue as to its actual meaning until now…BUT I do not think that is the case with this one, and I think it can be applied to our relationship with God. Even when things come up and try to steal our joy and happiness in life, it’s never going to surprise or hold back God, and it is never going to stop His love and careful watch over our lives. It is never going to stand in the way of His joy and peace that we can have no matter what.

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By the way, to all my girls, the One Direction music video for “Night Changes” is absolute gold… Five cute boys each take you on a date, what could be better? Look it up and thank me later, it’s the little things in life. :’)

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A Prayer About 10th Grade

Dear Lord,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Jesus' name I pray, Amen

Ashlee


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

The Best in Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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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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