My Thoughts Lately

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Headed back to the hotel

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I do love working in hotels

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Except I always get distracted with shopping :’)

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My dog while I was sick

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

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

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

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Kinnick Stadium, home of the Hawkeyes

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

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Then we went to the mall of course :)

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

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

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

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

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Zach Parise <3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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What I Learned from My Reading Diet

I finished reading ten books over the span of a week. I had three nonfiction books I had been needing to read, and my OCD forced me to read them before I got busy on the seven books I bought—which was good, because I'd had them for awhile. I decided to spend as many days as it took just reading all of these. Not just for fun, though. This time, I was reading to learn.

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See, this is what happens when your writing goes stale. I have this writer's block chart on my Pinterest that has been a cool resource: whenever you feel stuck writing, it asks you simple questions over what you're stuck with, such as characters, style, etc. And then it gives you simple prompts and exercises to help get things flowing again. My problem was with my craft. It seemed like every sentence I wrote was crap. So for that it recommended writing only to please yourself and not a bunch of people at once—not bad advice at all for an overthinker and perfectionist like me. But that still didn't get me unstuck because my overthinking and perfectionism still took over. So then it recommended going on a "reading diet" because it will help improve your style, or it said to simply just get air and have time away from your story. So I did both, long story short.

As a writer, there's two types of reading: reading for fun and reading to learn. I wanted to do both, but especially reading to learn, that is, to help me improve my own writing. What I was surprised about, though, is how much I would learn not just for that but also about our culture and the things we believe, the messages that are portrayed in these books and what I've learned from reading them.

The nonfiction books were very good, over Christian themes that I could really take to heart. One of them was even over patience. And while it didn't change my life in the sense that waiting suddenly got easier—ha, when is that ever supposed to happen—it was still a good reminder for me. I'm learning, people, slowly, yes, but I'm getting there. Maybe one of these days I will even blog about what I've learned about waiting. Because if I can, then, yeah, there's hope for anyone.

From that point on, the rest of the books I had to read were all fiction, young adult, which is a genre that is written specifically for the teen audience. Besides Christian fiction, young adult is easily my favorite genre because, well, obviously. I'm right in the age group, so it's the most relatable—except when it's not. Sometimes it's not, when they do the little fairytale storyline crap that I hate. But sometimes it is. You have to find the right books. And oh my gosh, that is HARD. Finding the right books. I think I've just gotten so picky, but there's no variety in it, it seems. And then on those rare occasions when I find a book that I seriously love, I can never find any stories that are similar in what I like about it. Ugh. I guess finding what I DON'T like is helping me narrow it down... Slowly...

But anyway, enough on this. Like I said, I realized a lot of things while reading these books. And the books that I'm going to be talking about are the fictional young adult ones. I bought a whole series that I'd read the first three books of and had enjoyed those—clear back when I was in seventh grade, I believe, and the reason I know this is because I had pictured the hot guy as a hockey player I was obsessed with then—as well as a companion book to that series that I'd also already read, and then I bought two books that completed another series by a young adult author I really like. I liked the majority of the books I got, except for the two books at the end of that five book series. They were told from a different character's perspective, so I was skeptical about how much I would like them. But here's what I learned from all of them:

~There's so many stereotypical perspectives. We need new ones.

When it came to that new character, I couldn't relate to her. In fact, she really got on my nerves. It was like that stereotypical female leader type character, in the sense that to be a female leader the female has to tough, dominating, and snarky. Which I disagree with. There are plenty of great female leaders who don't fit that stereotype, ones who are more gentle or quieter. That can be the young adult genre in a nutshell, though, sometimes, is that it is FULL of the cliche characters. Especially when it comes to guys. You get the same bad boy personalities that are supposed to be portrayed as sexy and blah blah blah. One of my favorite YA authors—who was the author of the other two books I got to finish a series—I think she does a good job of creating realistic characters with varying personalities. She even writes young adult romance, but you can still see how the guys are flawed. And her female characters lean on the side of being more innocent and naive, and before her, I had never found a young adult author who wrote their characters that way, and I LOVED that perspective. As a teenager myself, I have yet to find stories that imitate how relatable those were for me, even if they were secular, too. That's kind of one of my complaints about the Christian fiction genre, too: the characters feel too plastic to me. Like it seems like they're gifted with way too much to the point that it's not realistic, and you don't get an honest portrayal of their flaws. There's this one author who seems to give all of her characters natural beauty, and it's like, okay, not all of us are blessed with that... But sure, we'll pretend to be happy for her when the guys just love her... Oh that's right, I forgot real people usually struggle with jealousy, too—that's what it would be nice to see more of.

~I still hate cliche endings.

Agh, those same books also had the worst endings. They were too fairytale-ish. I don't necessarily mind happy endings, but they have to be authentic for me, like I talk about here.

~More than that, I think I hate the way endings are wrote, period.

Okay, this one may be more of a critique of myself than the actual stories. I'm insatiable when it comes to the way endings are wrote. If they're too happy, I don't like that because it doesn't feel real—it's too cliche. But if they're too sad, then I'm left depressed (if you've never been depressed over a book, you don't know what you're missing, haha) and needing more. And, as I found out just recently with the conclusion to this other series by the teen author I love, I don't like it when they're too open-ended. NORMALLY open-ended types are my favorite because they're more of a middle ground: not too happy, yet not too sad. So maybe it was just because this particular series dealt with a hot guy who she only now got back with at the end of the story, and I would've loved to read more of him BEYOND A PAGE...

Endings aren't fun, though, especially when you're super engrossed in a story, and you feel attached to the characters. I have some characters I love so much, I could read book after book with them and never get bored. I suppose it's kind of like certain people, in a way. You have some you love to see and miss horribly when it's time to say goodbye, and then there are others where you're like get out of my life already...

~I would love to know the psychology behind why I get so attached to certain characters.

Seriously, it's almost insane. I have some characters I just don't forget, but I suppose if they feel real and relatable, you feel like you know them but yet you don't. After the conclusion of the series I loved, my grandma told me to call her to let her know how it ended because I was worried I would get the ending I did, so then I was ranting all about this guy and how much I loved him and how I didn't want to be done reading about him and how ONE PAGE is not nearly adequate enough. My brother thought I had lost my mind, insisting it was only a book. Well, you should see what his video games do to him, so I think I'm fine, and every other teenage girl would agree. This guy, though... He had finally just come around, and he was so sensitive inside and had such capabilities to think deeply, he was great. <3

Okay, I'll quit now, but I guess I definitely learned lots to put into my own writing. My grandma was telling me that now I'll know how to end my book, since I was so unsatisfied with the other series' ending. Well, I don't know about that, but it definitely got me thinking, especially about the power of good characters. I mean, this fictional guy, is like, awesome to me. He's FICTIONAL, though, but as they say, he'll live on in my heart... Maybe it's because in my head I pictured him looking really hot...? I don't know. Well, what I do know is that when it comes to me personally, I have my physical type of guy all down to a T, but personality wise? I have no idea. I guess I should just create a million male characters and see which one I fall in love with. And then somehow find a real life version. Ha. Like that'll happen.

Okay but in all seriousness, it has made me think even about the grand point of why I write fictional stories as a whole: there is something about them that, when done right, can resonate with people on a deep, knowing level, and that literally has the power to change their life. I don't know how or why yet—I haven't started my research psychology career yet—but it does. It really does, and it's not just because of hot guys, not ALL of the time, anyway. It's because when done right, the characters do feel relatable, and you can learn things from their struggles and pick out themes for all of this—all of the stories in the world—that all lead to something bigger than ourselves. And I know that that's God and what He has done for us.

As far as being done right goes, that really depends; there is no set definition of the perfect way to write a novel. But I think there's something to be said for those novels that are completely raw and honest, that show characters' vulnerabilities and inner darkness, and that depict great themes. That's my goal when I write, anyway, but everyone is looking for something different, which is why, as my writing chart says, it's important first to just write for yourself. And it is pretty amazing, what writing can do for its author. You can explore your own darkness and hurts, your own doubts and attitudes about life, all with your imagination. I can't get enough of it, and now, after reading all these books, I really am itching to write my own. Someone once asked me if I prefer to read or write, which one I liked better. It was a very tough choice for me because I've always loved to read, but as I've gotten older, there's only so much reading I can stand before I have to write my own stories. It's like a necessity, a way for me to release my thoughts and comb through them.

So now I must go do that, ugh, and pray I don't let my perfectionistic crap get in my way... That will come in handy for revising, but I've got to get it through my head somehow that YOU CANNOT REVISE WHAT IS NOT FINISHED...

Okay seriously, like I really need to get on that. But I also want to hear from you! What are your fave genres and types of stories to read? Any recommendations for me?! I feel so weird not waking up to read anymore because I read all my books...but now it's time to write my own, I guess!

Oh, one last thing—for reviews on some of my fave books, read this post here. It's from like three years ago, so I really need to do a new one now!!! That one took an emphasis on Christian fiction, but maybe this next one could deal specifically with young adult? Then you could hear all about the hot guys!!!

Okay. I'm done for real now.

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