What God Taught Me in 2016

I promised to write a blog post dedicated solely to what God taught me in 2016. On New Year's Day, my family spent most of it traveling home from my grandparents' house. I really don't mind traveling, and I don't typically mind long car rides. They give me a nice opportunity to relax, think, and observe. And that's what I did.

I journaled in my favorite pink composition book packed with some sporadic journal entries I wrote towards the end of 2016 about each of the years I can remember well and as far back as I can remember when my relationship with God started, and my guess is that was around 2013. As I was reflecting on the past four years, I wrote down one word for each which summed up each year.

2013 was surrender. I wish I could tell you I remember the exact day I got saved, but I really don't. I remember loving Jesus my whole life, but I know there came a point where I had to understand my deep need for Him, and I honestly do think that came in 2013, when on one stressful morning, I can vividly remember telling Jesus that I couldn't do life on my own anymore. He had to have control. ALL control. Not just the control I was willing to give him but ALL of it. That may have been the day I got saved, or it may have come later. But I do think that day was definitely a turning point. Either way, I never forgot that day, so maybe that means something? I don't know. At the very latest, I know for a fact I was saved on June 24, 2016, coming home from Canada. . . . I'll go into that story as one of my lessons.

2014 was purpose. In 2013 I wrote this crap story that was around 30,000 words when I quit it because it was pathetic. It was about my thoughts in fifth grade, and oh goodness, let's not go there. But then in the beginning of 2014, I began what is now my first completed novel that I believe in still, and I finished it the end of 2014. Then, in the summer of 2014, I started reading blogs. My cousin and I ended up starting a blog, and then I started teaching myself how to design blogs by Googling things, and I guess I ended up being okay at it. That was the summer we were trying to get me a website for my writing, but then in my free time I started loving the power of blogging, and in August, Sparkles by Ashlee was born.

2015 was foundation. In 2015, I started seeing the importance of knowing God more and more by reading His Word, and I became closer to Him than ever as we dealt with some different trials. There were many different events that happened to shape, mold, and grow my relationship with God.

2016 was strengthen. Once I finally had a strong faith in God that had been tested by trials, suffering, and skepticism, it was time for that faith to blossom and grow even more. And that's what happened in 2016. One lesson after the other. They weren't always the easiest lessons, but looking back, I am so thankful I learned them. 2016, while at times difficult, was crucial in my walk with God and crucial in shaping who I am today. Here are, briefly, because each of these lessons could have so many blog posts written about each, what I learned.

Be careful who you hang around. I'm not saying you can never hang out with anyone who thinks or acts differently than you, but when someone you hang out with is getting into sin and you're tempted to join in too, be very careful. It is true to some extent that you become who you hang around with. Always make God the priority of your life, and this one should come easier when He is first.

There’s a lesson to be learned in everything. I've written a few posts about how life can be like some random event and what you can learn from it. I've done this with racing and hockey. I really think that there's something to be learned for anything God allows in your life. Even your failures. God can use anything.

Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. {James 4:8}

You’re never really alone. We all know I've felt alone at many points in my life before. I've been through some extremely lonely days at school. But I can definitely say that God was there, and I could see Him working and feel His presence. He has promised you will never be alone (Deuteronomy 31:6, just to name one verse). And I can testify that He hasn't broken that promise, and He never will. Sometimes I think I'm closest to God when it's just Him and me versus me being in some big clique. Do I like being alone? No. But He's there, and while I'm waiting for people to come along, I want to get closer and closer to Him.

The Holy Spirit will work in you. You should always be growing. I've seen the Holy Spirit work in my heart a lot this year, and I'll go into specifics through more of these lessons. But what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit and Him working is amazing because it is so accurate. That alone is evidence for Christianity. When I first became a Christian, I had so much to learn (and I always will). But I was so worldly in the beginning. But the Holy Spirit cleaned me up, one area at a time, and I can still see Him doing that in the parts of me that need work. Are you growing? I see so many people that claim they are Christians for like five years, but during that five years, have not grown one bit. Why is that? Do you really understand the Gospel and have you totally surrendered to Jesus? We'll never be perfect, but we should always be growing. You should be able to see the Holy Spirit working in your life.

Don’t get sucked into the worldliness of blogging. "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men" (Colossians 3:23 ESV). #EnoughSaid.

Life is about more than pretty pictures. I'm going to tell you something really dumb: I can honestly get really mad with photography because I love taking pictures, and I'm a picture perfectionist, so when my photos are a little too blurry or a little too much this and not enough that I can honestly get mad. It's dumb, I know it is. I actually have some diary entries from the spring 2016 where I literally go on a rant about how mad I was that my pictures didn't turn out. I guess my point is, life is about more than pictures, how good they turn out, whether you got one of something you wanted or not, or whatever other petty little thing is bothering you that will one day mean nothing. Are my pictures coming to heaven with me? Doubt it. It will not matter what I got pictures of and what I didn't or how good they were, and in the meantime, am I going to waste the moments being upset about not getting a picture?

God will give you the grace to get through whatever He puts in your life. {2 Corinthians 12:9}

Pizza at 10:00 is always a good idea.

Never underestimate the importance of godly people.

Canada is not a place to be a fashionista. So don’t pack like that.

The scariest thirty minutes of my life can be summed up in two words: unforgivable sin. Okay guys I'm finally going to tell you my story of learning about the unforgivable sin! I'll try to make it as quick and easy to understand as possible. In fact, actually, what helped me understand it was reading other articles, so here's one you can start with. It's easy to understand, and really it comes down to this: have you trusted Jesus Christ to be your Savior? If you haven't, and then you die, you've committed the unforgivable sin. That's the unforgivable sin in basic form.

But I didn't know this at first.

So we got up WAY too early to drive home from Canada, and we were driving the entire fourteen some hours I think home. Maybe it was around six when I read this? Anyway, we were back in Iowa and close to home actually. We were going to pick up my dog. My phone was at, like, 10 or 5%. But I was reading one of my favorite Christian blogs, and I noticed they said something about an unforgivable sin, and they said we weren't going into that in this post.

And my reaction to that would be:

Wait a minute we need to go into this. There's an unforgivable sin?!! WHAT is it?!

My heart was beating so hard, and I started looking at all these articles. It took me about a half hour to figure it out, and it happened while we were getting my dog, so I was just trying to hold in my panic. The articles talked about the hardness of heart, which is when you let sin take over your life, and then it takes over so much you can't repent or see your need for Jesus. And all that time I was thinking about my own sin, especially this recurring sin I had, and thinking, Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, I'm not doing a good enough job fighting this sin, and is it going to take over my life and make me unable to repent?! HAS IT ALREADY?!!!!!!

Plus, might I add, these articles were saying things like once God makes a decision, He won't change His mind, and I am like, KEEP THAT ENCOURAGEMENT COMING!!! So needless to say, after thirty minutes of me asking for forgiveness every five seconds practically as my phone was at 1% and we're trying to get Willy and I'm having a panic attack thinking I need to talk to Mom RIGHT NOW about this and I'm praying my phone isn't going to die and I'm praying I'M not going to die because if I have committed this sin and God will never change His mind. . . .

That was maybe the scariest thirty minutes ever if I haven't already said so. But, listen, the reason I felt that way was because I didn't understand it. I'm certain that if I would've died then I hadn't committed that sin, because we ALL struggle with sin, and just because you struggle with sin doesn't mean you've committed the unforgivable sin. It's when you let sin take over your life, and Jesus goes out of the picture, and you don't CARE about your sin. That's what leads to the unforgivable sin. That's why, if you're scared, it's actually a good sign, because then you do see the horror of sin. It would be bad if you didn't care. Here's one article that really brought me peace, especially if you have fallen into sin: Is God Fed Up with Me?

Things aren’t going to go as you planned. Trust that God knows best, and let life happen.

At the end of the day, all you need is God. With Him, you have everything. And without Him, you have nothing.

The Bean Boozled Challenge. Do it. And record it.

God lays certain situations and people on your heart for a reason. Go after that lost person no one else will.

No one is too far gone for God’s grace. The grace of God can reach anyone. God can save even the worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).

It’s not enough to condemn sin. Anyone can do that. Our purpose as Christians is to go beyond that. This year, I started understanding how important it is to reach out to people with the Gospel and actually take it to them because it's easy to condemn sin. Anyone can condemn sin. But our job as Christians is to go one step further, telling people about Jesus and the forgiveness of sins in Him (Matthew 28:19). You witness someone bullying another kid, and you know that's wrong. You're watching your local news when you hear of the latest homicide, and you know that's wrong. Someone gets fired for lying about their job, and you know they deserved it because it was wrong.

Well, good. We should never condone sin. But who's going to go after the lost sinners in your life? For those of us in Christ, we know the horrors of sin and what our sin causes. We know where we should be but by the grace of God will not be. But there are people who are so lost they don't even know where to begin in finding themselves. So go after those people and lead them to Christ. That is really the most loving thing you could ever do for someone.

God will meet you at your darkest place.

When the Holy Spirit is calling you to do something, you better do it. The Holy Spirit won't put something on your heart unless there's a purpose for it. A purpose that will glorify God (so don't say sinning is a call from the Holy Spirit because I can promise you right now it isn't) and oftentimes make you step out of your comfort zone. I've had the Holy Spirit lay things on my heart, and unfortunately, many times I've ignored Him. But this year, I realized how important it is to take risks, especially when it comes to sharing Jesus. I'm not saying you have to be stupid when you take risks, but oftentimes those risks are when you have to step out of your comfort zone. But do it anyway. In the end, it will be worth it.

God can revive any situation.

You must believe when you pray. I read this book that had this awesome message about prayer, about a girl who was in a drowning accident, and due to the time she was underwater, her odds of ever making a recovery were nonexistent. Her grandpa, who was a doctor, realized this, and prayed for God to take her home. But then she recovered. Fully, completely recovered. And it was just a beautiful story about how God has no limits, so don't give up praying on any situation.

If God is laying a task on your heart to do, He’ll give you the opportunities to do it. Will you trust Him? Back to what I was saying about when the Holy Spirit calls you to do something. If you have to step out of your comfort zone, God will be with you. He will give you the favor and opportunities to do what He's calling you to do. Do you believe that?

I had a time this year where I felt like God was leading me to do something. I knew, though, that by going through with this, it would involve taking some risks. But I discussed it with some people to make sure it was something God was calling me to do, we worked around the obstacles, and God gave me favor and solutions to the problems that arose with this. He opened the doors, and while I'm still not sure how God is going to use what He called me to do, I believe it was the right thing to do and something He wanted me to do, and I believe that He is going to work.

Your work for the Lord is not in vain. {1 Corinthians 15:58}

Be totally and completely real with God. He knows everything about you, and He loves you. He desires an intimate relationship with you, and you don't have to put up walls or filters around God because He sees right through. This song by Citizen Way opened up my eyes big time about this.

There’s nothing greater than telling someone about the love of God.

The most helpful, loving thing you could ever do for someone is share with them the Gospel. I mentioned this earlier, and that's because I read this quote from Billy Graham: "I am convinced the greatest act of love we can ever perform for another person is to tell them about God's love for them in Christ." And it's true. We're all desperate for Jesus, dead in our sin (Romans 6:23). But we know who sets us free. We can't save anyone, but we can lead someone to Christ. God has given us the privilege to throw out lifelines to people, and He is the only lifeline (John 14:6).

There’s nothing like a great story. I have read maybe over ten Karen Kingsbury books, and my goodness, she is an amazing writer.

Wait on the Lord. Don’t worry about anything.

You will have hard days. And God will be right there with you.

You cannot MAKE anyone act a certain way. But you can be a light.

There is no way I believe in coincidences. Everything happens for a reason, and if you know God, look for the ways He is working in your life. I have had one too many small "coincidences" at just the right time this year to believe that these events are actually coincidences.

Not every prayer will get answered when you want it to. I remember one day I was praying for something at school. It was the morning, and I had to wait until lunch to hear anything and hear if my prayer had gotten answered since I was praying for an event taking place that morning. I was pretty sure that in the morning as I prayed I could almost have this knowing from God that said wait on the Lord. I kind of blew it off because I hate waiting, so that was music to my ears. I'm like, okay, God, I'll wait three more hours until I can get on my phone for updates.

Well, yeah. You may not always understand the waiting, but God does. Trust Him in the waiting. And if anyone has any tips on that, I'm all ears. ;)

No pain is meaningless. Embrace it and learn.

God’s mercies are new every morning. Run to Him when you fail. So many people when they sin will pull away from God. I can even do that, because we feel unworthy. But God couldn't love you more, and He couldn't love you less. Run to Him when you fail. He'll love you when nobody else does, even despite the ways you've failed. You cannot EARN His love, God is love, and so He loves you (1 John 4:8).

Don’t let your dog sit by you at the table. If you're friends with me on Facebook, you've seen the pictures I've taken of my dog. One day we had the brilliant idea to let him sit by us at the table. It was hilarious. Problem is, now he comes up there every. Single. Meal.

Life is too short to wear boring clothes. I was shopping at a consignment shop one day, and that is literally a sign they had. #canigetanamen And then another time I saw a Pinterest quote that said, "Life isn't perfect, but your outfit can be." :')

Life is also too short to care what people think of you getting a picture. I will get a picture by a busy highway if I want to.

Don’t vlog with your mom in the car unless you want your phone confiscated.

Nothing brings me greater joy than leading someone to Christ.

Embrace all the little things. I actually learned this one an hour after we rang in the new year, when my cousins were messing around watching COPS, and down came my grandparents' Christmas tree. Good times!