Sparkles by Ashlee: faith, funny, + fulfilling dreams

Welcome to Sparkles by Ashlee, a Christian lifestyle blog over faith, funny, and fulfilling dreams. I'm Ashlee Staerk, and I'm a teenager in love with Jesus and writing stories for His glory in Iowa. Grab your fave drink (I'll take a Dr. Pepper), and peruse my blog, where I document what God is teaching me, encouragement He lays on my heart, the good and the bad in life (always keeping it real), and my journey of trusting God with my dreams!

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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.