Saying Yes & Following The Path Of Fulfillment

I have been struggling lately. I have been struggling with the question, “Who am I?” There are so many possible labels: a wife, a friend, a Christian, an advocate, a member of my community, a woman, a dreamer, a runner, an organizer, a finance assistant, a blogger. Yet when I consider those labels, I don’t feel I embody any of them completely. I have this unrelenting  want to add the word “BETTER” before each title. I want to be a better wife, a better friend, a better Christian, etc. All at once. All together. All to perfection. And as I wonder about who I am, I begin to feel overwhelmed with disappointment at my elusive potential.

That is where my biggest struggle lies: in the want to be “better” than how I perceive myself. Focusing on that want which seems so unfathomable, unapproachable, and unreachable, I recognize I am viewing my life from the base of a gigantic mountain. I can see multiple trails I could claim as my path, each with a directional sign reading who I yearn to be. Yet I feel if I choose one path, then the others will go unaltered. Never being explored, never being grown, never being conquered.

Smarter hikers than I would venture down a path to see where it leads and then retrace their footsteps to explore another trail. Stronger hikers than I would choose one path, complete it, and return to the beginning to begin anew. Not me though. I want to take all the paths at once without giving any specific label up. All or nothing is what I felt was necessary to give my life meaning and purpose.

I found myself praying at this multi-directional trail head for weeks. How could I be a better wife while simultaneously attempting to be a better friend and a better runner and a better active member of my community? There did not seem to be enough minutes in the day or energy in my body to keep up with everything necessary to make me into the person I felt I needed to be.

Then Sunday happened.

It amazes me in the ways God can speak to me. He either gives subtle nods that have me constantly second guessing if I’m reading the signs correctly or He drops something so obvious into my lap that I’m left dazed at my own ignorance.

Sunday’s sermon was that mountain being dropped onto my head, dazing and enlightening me into shame of my own stupidity.

A guest pastor gave the sermon. He was a director at Life Action Ministries, an organization that believes in calling people to authentic Christianity in order for the gospel to shine brightly out of lives transformed by God’s presence and power. He spoke about the brokenness of our world and the effects of sin on society. He talked about renewing our spirits to revive not only ourselves, but the world as a whole. And his method of doing this was by saying “YES!” to God every single day.

The sermon as a whole was specifically aimed towards saying “Yes” to God when it came to our faith and spiritual well-being. This pastor spoke on topics of selling ourselves short when it came to being followers of Jesus and how our actions today effect a number of outcomes tomorrow. Spiritually, I needed to hear this message because I am constantly worrying if I am a good enough Daughter of Christ.

However, the message hit me in all aspects of my life.

I began to see my life as a series of Yes’s and No’s. Sometimes I chose to say Yes to a path of my own and rely on myself to not trip on the obstacles along the way. Yet looking back, I know that when I chose to say Yes to the paths God directed me towards is when my life truly flourished. My best Yes’s were those where God led me!

One prime example of these differences in Yes’s were when I was led out of my pre-House lifestyle. House, as some of you may remember, is my young adults Bible study group. Prior to House, I had focused mainly on drowning my unhappiness with late nights and a careless attitude, dating the wrong people because I lacked knowledge in what I deserved, and caring more for earthly matters than my eternal soul. I sought pity. I sought relevance. I sought anything than what I had been taught through my Christian upbringing truly mattered. I was choosing to say Yes to an overgrown, boulder-strewn trail. I didn’t like who I was becoming, but the thought of turning off-course to a path of revival was scary. I felt I would be heading into that unknown alone, and I knew there were a lot of burning bridges to be mended before I could make it to the summit.

When the time came that I finally realized I no longer had the strength and endurance to cut my way through the briers of my own path, I turned to God. I knew I needed to go down the path of revival, but I also knew I couldn’t lead myself. Life Action puts the Path of Revival in good terms: my first step was to find humility. Then honesty, repentance, forgiveness, and obedience. None of these were easy obstacles on my own, but by saying Yes to God and His leadership, I began my journey.

And following God brought me to a beautiful clearing of my life.

I earned friendships with the most honest and supportive people imaginable. I went through many trials that ultimately grew me into a stronger and wiser individual. I faltered many times, turning back and looking at the path I once walked, but I never turned to salt. Instead, I might trip and scrape my knee, but I picked myself up and endured the pain until finally the summit of that stage in my life was reached.

Nonetheless, the mountain continued ahead, and life went on. I hadn’t reached the end. Instead I was given the option of continuing to say Yes to hiking up my current course or choosing another path. Free will is a gift from God, after all, and the choice was mine to make.

In the same way, sometimes I said No to paths I knew were the Godly direction and chose to go my own selfish way. And though those No’s brought a lot of growth and wisdom through life lessons, they also brought a lot of hurt and sorrow.

One such No was when I wanted to keep walking my current course, but there was clearly a blockade in the trail. God kept subtly giving me signs, but I shook my head No at Him and continued up anyways. I was in a floundering relationship where I provided support with hardly any in return. The trail I was attempting to climb was turning to sand and washing away under my feet, but I fought to move forward still. There were no tree branches to help pull me upward, there was no covering to protect me from the headwinds. I kept saying No to the signs God was handing me and instead tried to force love and adoration and respect into a relationship that never was bound to have those emotions reciprocated. I gave more and more of my heart until I had no more to give, and I came tumbling down the mountainside when the rainstorms finally gathered and let loose.

It’s amazing how when you allow people to make more withdrawals than deposits into your life, how out of balance you will find yourself. You get to a negative space and you’re not sure how to “close the account.”

For me, when that unhealthy relationship ended, I found myself knocked out of breath from the avalanche. My heart was hardened from the fall. My happiness and willingness to listen to God ceased. My negativity was at an all-time high when I was at an all-time low. I felt isolated in my situation, feeling heavy emotions of depression and hatred for everyone involved. I chose to be a victim of the mountain, and I blamed everyone involved including God.

But He wasn’t who led me on that path, was He? No, I had chosen not to abide by His clear signs stating “Trail Closed Ahead” and wandered forward on my own. Looking back, it is so clear the paths He meant for me to follow instead. I stuck to my own crummy intuition though. I made excuses. I tried to convince myself the path was not as bad as it really was.

After the tumble down, I tried to shake myself off. I tried to be strong on my own. I defiantly began climbing a path of Self-Yes. I clung to other unhealthy relationships like a lifeline, I relied on pills and drinks to numb the pain, and I made decisions unfamiliar with my character for the sole purpose to hurt those who hurt me. I wanted to do what I wanted to do, and my situation became worse due to my own leadership. My life became a dark, sunless void as I went further and further into the forested hills that I was creating for myself.

It wasn’t until I turned back to God that my life made a drastic change. (Surprising, right? If only I had remembered my lessons from previous “No Times” as well.) As I said No to my selfish path and Yes to God’s directions, I began to find rays of sunshine again. A light through the treetops showed roots to step over so I wouldn’t trip. A clearing brought warmness and happiness and laughter. The forest was dying away and I could see the next summit for which I was aiming. It was obvious that following God meant a life full of love and contentment.

And so I continued to say Yes to Him.

Life was great, and I believed the reason wholeheartedly was relying on God to direct me. I centered my life on Philippians 4:8:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.

By taking the examples of what a God-pleasing life entailed, I attempted to live by this passage in my thoughts, words, and actions. And I found peace.

I know that if I had chosen to say No to reconciling with God, I would not be where I am today. God not only led me to a healthy and complete relationship with G, but he led me to stronger relationships with my family and friends. I was able to see those who were meant to be a part of my life and why I needed to close the accounts with others. My career flourished, my other responsibilities and hobbies blossomed, and I found contentment in the person I was. I loved myself and I was eager for the future God had awaiting me.

Transitional periods are tough though. I reached the summit of that beautiful hike on my wedding day. Since then I have found myself again struggling with my image.

Who am I?

I’m now a wife, but I find struggle in claiming that as my only label. As someone who once was overwhelmed with all her hats being juggled, that addiction is a hard thing to break. I sometimes find myself feeling guilty that I have “down time.” I knock myself for not jumping to return text messages to friends. I put myself down for not writing a blog post every day or allowing my workouts to go by the wayside. I want to be a great wife, but I also want to be a great blogger and runner and friend and, and, and…

It took the sermon on Sunday to remind me that maybe that’s the problem though — struggling with perfection rather than stopping to listen my Lord. Maybe I am confusing fulfillment in my life’s goals with contentment of the here and now.

I think it is time to readjust how I view myself and glorify God in all He has provided me.

Let me be honest with you, I had a breakdown a few weeks ago where I questioned what my purpose was outside of being a wife. I had put so much focus on preparing for marriage before the wedding that all other hobbies and past times were thrown to the curb. Now that life has gotten back into a routine, though, I realized I missed having things to do aside from making dinners and cleaning the house. Not that I feel any of my wifely roles are beneath me or not valuable, but because I feel I need to juggle more responsibilities to be valued in other areas of my community other than just my home.

I want to be relevant to more than just my family and friends. I want to be relevant to the world.

This is not something I believe is uncommon for a newlywed. After the excitement of the wedding, there are the slow times when you are attempting to distinguish your new self. While focusing on being the best spouse possible, you also want to remain an individual. I don’t think that want is a terrible thing, but I do realize it is not always inline with Godly ventures.

Sometimes a person falters as a newlywed by shifting too far to one side or the other. You may focus solely on being a spouse and lose yourself and the plan God has for you. Or you may focus too much on remaining an individual and not put in the effort necessary for a functional and lasting, God-pleasing marriage.

The key is to find a balance.

After Sunday’s sermon I realized that I am not reaching that balance and that I am selling myself short.

Who says I am not a good wife? Who says I am not a good friend? Who says I am not good in any of my roles except for my own sinful mind?

God led me to where I am today. He led me into my role as a wife, and He also led me into the role of being a finance assistant and a lifestyle blogger and a cancer awareness advocate.

In the same way, there were roles He told me to step down from because He knew I was becoming overwhelmed, tired, and distracted. Being the person I am, quitting anything, even for the sake of my health, is giving up. I disappoint myself by backing away. But God told me No for some responsibilities I felt compelled to complete. And it was when I listened to Him that my life was revived.

The roles I have in my life have continuously been rejuvenated. I excel, I receive praise, and I get promoted. Sometimes it is like a light is switched on in those areas, and I could trek full-steam ahead into unknown territories without any fear. And it seemed that even when I was hiking down one path, the others I simultaneously needed to focus on interwove with my current track. As I hiked the “wife path” those of friend, Christian, advocate, and others joined the route of my next big expedition.

So why should I not listen now to all the Yes’s He has before me? Why am I struggling with my current roles and wishing for even more to cascade down onto me? Why should I not strive to find fulfillment where I am so that I am prepared for what He has coming around the bend?

Today I say I will.

I say Yes to what is before me and I say Yes to being content with who I am right here, right now.

I choose to say Yes to God in performing my current duties to impact myself and others in a positive way. I choose to say Yes to God in finding fulfillment with who I am right here, right now. I choose to say Yes to God for the plans he has ahead of me and to lead me to the best outcomes possible in an unknown future.

I choose to say Yes in loving where I am and who I am right now, and trusting in God to mold me into a better version of myself each and every day. His purpose comes first, and everything will fall perfectly into place as I move forward in His peace.

Climb the mountain, not to plant your flag but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air, and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.

For those interested, here is the sermon as a whole for those who would like to witness this powerful message also:

Happy hiking, my friends, 

Vices vs. Verses: A Testimony

There has been a lot of discussion in my church lately on the importance of personal testimony and how individual stories can impact the world. Giving testimony on one’s faith is empowering and gives honor and glory to God because we are relaying the story of how He saved us. Peonies ‘n Mint, though loosely based around random discussion on what Life brings to the table, has grown to include more and more discussions on faith and belief as well. I do not usually dive into topics that may cause conflict, as I’m sure anything centering around religion may, but when it comes to my faith, I’m going to choose not to be afraid and go there…

I was blessed to have parents who felt the importance to have me grow up in the Church. I was baptized two weeks after my birth into the Lutheran faith and attended church regularly every week following. I began school in a Lutheran day-preschool at the early age of four. From there on I was given Bible lessons every day up through senior year in high school. I had to memorize Bible verses on a daily basis, I attended chapel services at least three days a week, and I was taught the stories of the Bible as an academic course. To say I knew the Bible like the back of my hand is an understatement…

Having religion as such a central part of one’s education should be a wonderful thing. However, I’ve come to believe that growing up in such a fashion leads to two very different types of people: the one who centers all thinking on his or her faith OR the one who takes advantage of that education and rebels. I am ashamed to say that for a long time I fell into the latter category.

Upon entering my higher education years, I left daily catechism to begin studying in a public university. In a better world, I would have matured throughout my college years into a steadfast and faithful woman of God. I should have taken the time to read the Bible on my own, revisiting familiar passages in the Word. I should have pushed myself to dive into devotions and actively allowed prayer into my life. I should have searched and joined Bible Study groups on campus to share in fellowship with my fellow believers. Instead, I allowed my past knowledge to be enough and left my faith on the back burner.

It isn’t surprising, then, that when I was faced with my first real trial in Life that I turned my back on God. I experienced the first true pain in the twisting shadows of heartbreak. I should have clung to God and His encouraging words such as 2 Corinthians 12v9: But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Rather, I blamed God and played the victim saying He had turned His back on me.

To make matters worse, I not only closed myself to God, but I opened myself to many vices of the world. I was no longer Ashley, but some foreign wraith of the girl who once prided herself on reciting Bible verses in front of her church congregation. I began to drink heavily. I was well known at many local bars, finding myself on first-name basis with barkeeps all over the county. It was rare for me not to close down a bar on any given Friday or Saturday. I found any and all worth in the compliments I received from men I met at those bars. I tried every unhealthy diet in the book because I was solely focused on looking and acting the part of a good bar-fly. I began to associate with people of the same ambition. I swore, I lied, and I didn’t give a damn about my reputation.

Acting in this manner led me to be an extremely lonely individual. Feeling lousy, depressed, and of no self-worth, I jumped at the first opportunity granted me at a real relationship. Enter Army. I blamed all my hardships on life on that starting factor: my breakup with X. So, naturally, I believed beginning a new romance would provide me with the self-worth necessary to make me happy.

The one positive thing to come from this stage in my life is that I became an extrovert. When you don’t care what people think, you’re much more prone to talking to strangers and being more social. With an increased bravado, I agreed to a blind date where I met Army for the first time. In retrospect, there wasn’t much to our initial attraction past looks. I suppose he intrigued me because we seemed to have common lifestyles: we both liked to drink, we both liked to workout, and we were both lonely.

Those similarities worked for a while, until they didn’t.

God brought me to my senses in a very clear and pungent way. (Literally.) One day in early summer, Army and I attended a festival at a local winery. It was typical that our time together centered around alcohol, and the day started off well enough. We pitched lawn chairs in the winery’s vineyards facing their outdoor stage where several bands were set to play throughout the day and we headed to grab growlers of our favorite beverages. In a streak of pure brilliance on my part, I had stayed up late the night before, ran a 5k race that morning, and opted out of eating any food whatsoever prior to the festivities. So the 64 ounces of sangria was all I had in my system. Things only continued to go downhill from there and a series of very unfortunate events (points of which I am still too ashamed to divulge in public) transpired. Ultimately, the afternoon concluded with Army screaming obscenities at me while I bawled in front of over 500 people. It was, and remains to be, the single most embarrassing moment of my life.

Though Army apologized profusely the days following this horrendous event, things never felt the same after that festival. We became distant from one another. Looking back, its clear that was the beginning to our end.

It was also, blessedly, the start to my new life though.

It’s funny how deep and impacting embarrassment can strike you. I had dealt with other situations with Army, such as getting kicked out of establishments due to his temper and witnessing him want get into fights for as simple of a reason as someone not moving forward in line at a grocery check out… But nothing struck me quite like that festival. I realized that I was associated to such anger, and that didn’t sit right with me. I didn’t want to be the type of person who belittled strangers, who allowed others’ impertinence, who was arrogant and only cared about her own well-being. I no longer didn’t care…

With the feeling of utter shame, I began to reflect on my actions, and lack of action. I looked in the mirror and, though I no longer saw a crying, sniveling little girl, I still didn’t like my reflection. In the mirror I saw a girl who prided herself on her vices. She was vain. She was mean. She lied and swore and looked down on people because she somehow thought she was better than them. And something — buried deep, deep inside me — broke.

I knew I had to change.

Change, however, does not come all at once. Change is a process. I used to think my life change began when Army and I broke up, but now I can see it actually began at that wine festival. That was the moment I truly saw the kind of person I was becoming, and I was disgusted. I slowly began to drink less. While still with Army, I began to opt out of the bar scene, and instead chose to go to the gym or stay home. When he’d suggest going out, I’d order water to his beer. Once we broke up, I decided I wanted to take a hiatus from the dating scene. I no longer wanted to find my worth in a man’s perception. I wanted to find worth in myself. I worked out consistently, I created tighter friend circles, and I started to research new hobbies and activities available in my community. And somewhere along those lines that deeply buried broken girl pieced herself into a completely new woman.

Yet, even after I had grown past my vices, something was still missing from my life. Try as I might, I couldn’t keep pretending I didn’t know what that something was either: a strong connection to God. My faith had truly not been touched since high school. And even though I was molding myself into a new person, there was no lasting mortar to make sure I wouldn’t come crashing down again in the future.

I’m not a strong prayer. I feel ashamed to say that because I’ve had better instruction on how to talk to God than most people do throughout their lives. But, I’m just not. I forget constantly to thank God for His guidance, for His blessings, for His continued work in my life. Nonetheless, God still heard me that summer day when I was online browsing for something new to enter my life. At the time, I didn’t even know exactly what I needed, but He sure did!

I found House while looking for a Bible study group at First Church. Out of the blue, a Facebook friend had posted that she would be starting a Bible Study at the church come September. The topic she posted about sounded interesting, and since I was wanting to try new things, I investigated a bit further. I’m not sure if I actually even made it to the page with the Bible Study topics… all I remember is clicking a button pertaining to a “20 Somethings Group”. I jotted down the meeting location and time and made a mental note to try to join the group the following week.

It took me three weeks to find the House group. House is a Bible study group for 20 and 30-year-olds which meets at a local beach during the summer months. My first two attempts, the group had been holding fellowship in the actual lake, swimming and playing games and whatnot. So I spent the first two weeks walking up to random groups on the beach, asking if they were the House group, and receiving confused looks.

By the third week, I had pretty much given up, thinking the group either wasn’t considerate of newcomers or the group simply had no interest and didn’t truly meet! So there I was, on that fateful August evening, sitting at my parents’ house, staring into the void when my mom asks, “Why aren’t you going to that Bible study? I thought you were going to give it one last shot?” Since I honestly had nothing else to do, I shrugged and drove over to the beach. Luckily, my fears weren’t validated: House had regrouped on the beach and I was finally able to find them! And, the rest is history…

With every passing week at House, my faith grew a little bit more. Not only was I participating in studying the Bible, but I was able to have deep and impacting discussions on the Word’s content with peers of my own age. After saying goodbye to my bar lifestyle, I also ended up saying goodbye to quite a lot of “friends” who didn’t understand why I no longer wanted to be fun. So, House also provided me with a new friendship pool. Not only were the members of House fellow believers, but they soon would be my closest friends and confidants.

I dealt with a lot of loss since joining House. And whereas I might have once crumbled over that pain, the people I met in the organization were exactly the sort of people I needed. Each and every one of them has strength and compassion unparalleled to anyone else I’ve ever met. I honestly cannot express how blessed I am to have them; they are simply great, godly people.

And while being surrounded by such great, godly people, its hard not to also become godly. I feel excited to join House for church every Sunday, I eagerly await Wednesdays to participate in our weekly Bible Study, I even organized my own women’s Bible study group — something of which I NEVER thought I’d see myself do!

It’s amazing to think that little over a year ago I didn’t even want God in my life. I didn’t want to care about what He wanted from me. I didn’t want to change from my sinful nature. I didn’t want Him to see what I was becoming…

Yet God always has a way of knowing exactly what we need when we need it. It’s easy to forget and want to rush things to our own timeline, but that never truly works out in the ways we want, does it? No, God is the only one omniscient of our futures and what is best for us.

So, though I continue to struggle against my sinful nature on a daily basis, I gladly welcome God into my heart nowadays. Vices will always surface in a sin-filled world, but the Word’s verses hold me strong in His ways. Philippians 4v13: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. This I know is true.


 

God works in mysterious ways to bring us to His saving kingdom. As I said at the beginning of this post, testimonies are used to not only empower us to share His Word, but also to glorify God. If you are willing to share, I would love to hear your own testimony! 

Beating of the Drum

Hebrews 12:1 “Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

I experienced something new and exciting today — my first community Bible study. As a girl who attended a Lutheran day school from preschool to senior year in high school, this might not seem like something that should be so exciting. For me, though, this is a new opportunity to become closer to my God, and help me rediscover (or perhaps even discover for the first time) aspects of my life which I have been missing.

The study I enrolled in captured my interest right away. It is called Restless and will be discussing the story of Joseph and the mystery of one’s role in this world. I have been questioning my position in life for some time now, so it’s no wonder I was drawn to such a topic. And after my first group study today, I believe I will be pleasantly surprised at the outcome of these next eight weeks.

Looking at Hebrews 12:1 made me wonder if I have been running the race God has marked out for me. I began to question many things: who am I? What does God want me to become? Why does God have a plan for me?

As I question these things I feel a sense of discontentment and guilt. Discontentment because I am unsure the answers to these questions. Guilt because I am unsure whether I should be asking my Holy Savior such things. I mean, He has and has always had a plan for me, right? He knows how my life will progress and who I will one day become. Should I then worry about my future? I feel so restless and impatient. It’s like there’s a beating of a drum somewhere in the distance and I’m not sure if I should stop to listen, begin searching for it, or start dancing. There are too many choices!

In my study, an interesting story was told that stuck with me: a woman is running an uncompetitive race where there are multiple routes, numerous distractions, no time limits, and one finish line. As the woman decides to go on a dusty trail, she sees some people on the sideline taking a break. Feeling tired herself, she decides to join them and rest for a bit. When she meets the others on the side, she quickly becomes friends. The others are funny and entertaining and witty. They share numerous laughs, mostly at the expense of continuing racers who run by them. However, after some time the woman begins to notice that those on the sideline have no expectation to continue their racing any time soon. As she feels her muscles tightening back up and the adrenalin of the race’s start fading, she becomes restless. She realizes she needs to get back in the game. Raising to her feet and ignoring the questioning looks of her new friends she pads back onto the track. Slipping into a slight jog, she rediscovers her steps and eases back into a comfortable pace, never looking back.

The meaning of this story is so impacting! I think all of us go through stages where we experience people or situations who don’t really want the best for us. Maybe its a fun friend who is a horrible influence, or perhaps a job that isn’t moving you forward. Whatever the case, becoming stuck on the sidelines is not something God wants for us. Instead, he wants us to keep running the race He’s planned out for us. You might fall a few times, you might even have a serious injury that detriments your skills, but guess what? He will always be there as a crutch so you can continue stumbling along your path. Ultimately, your perseverence will allow you to bring Him the glory He justly deserves — and what He desires.

The challenge I’ve set for myself during the next eight weeks of this Bible Study is to become more aware of the areas I stumble or slow down in my own race. I want to figure out what causes these falterings in my running. In the end, my anticipation is that I will come to a finish line that allows me to be honestly and full-heartedly thankful for everything in my life (both good and bad) because I’ll understand and know that God is there to always lead me towards a better future.