8.30.2017

Promise Me You Will Never Settle


I've been seeing many of my peers settling lately.

The jobs/relationships they're in don't make them happy, don't make them better people, and even go so far as to make them complain about their lives.  I'm not saying there's any such thing as "perfect", but I am saying that there is something pretty darn close to it, and everyone has a choice to have it or not.  I see a lot of people settling because this world is accustomed to it.  And they'd rather settle for anything just so say that they can say they have something instead of nothing.

But here's the thing - you should never settle for mediocre.  It's the road to cheating yourself.  Settling is tolerating and shrugging your shoulders while saying "I guess this is the best I'll ever deserve."  Settling is merely existing, because living would make split ends.

Settling is also about perspective.  Can you look at the man or woman you're with and honestly say "I can't imagine being with anyone else. Even though the world might tell me that I can find someone better, I don't believe I can.  And I choose him/her."?  Can you think about your job and say "Yes, I look forward to the days I'm scheduled because I love what I do"?  Can you look around at your home, your bedroom, your bathroom and say "Yes, I love it and this is exactly how I want it to be decorated, etc"?  See, it's a matter of perspective.  It's opening your eyes, weighing your heart and your feelings with what your brain knows and understands and seeing if they match up.  Feelings are feelings and will always be flimsy.  They can change in the whisper of a breeze.  But knowing, having a firm knowledge in a truth that may not be tangible, but can be experienced; now that is something you can base your decisions on.

A funny thing about settling is that it doesn't feel bad - which is why so many people do just that.  Most of the time it's pretty darn comfortable.  People settle into okay jobs, okay homes, okay relationships because hey, that's what fell into their lap, landed in their path, was available at the moment or what have you so, they took it.  They settled.  They thought "Well, this is probably meant to be mine because it's right here in front of me."  And you know what?  That's fine.  An okay life pays the bills, keeps you warm and fed, keeps you moderately happy.  Cool.  But where's the living in that?  Where's the passion?  Where's the memory-making?  The moments of unforgettable, extreme times of hair-raising suspense and challenging obstacle courses that end in a thrilling adventure?

"Okay is not the reason you risk absolutely everything you've got for the smallest chance that something absolutely amazing could happen."  

You should never settle for less than your soul deserves.  Whether that be in your job, your friends, your finances, your relationships.  You keep your standards high, your work ethic strong, and you make friends with whoever you find along that path to passion and greatness because I promise you, it will be worth it in the end.

What you want exists.  There is nothing new under the sun.  It's just gonna take effort and hard work and a heap of patience to get it.  But you can.

Now promise me something?

You'll never settle.

Ten years from now, will you be able to look back and say that you chose your life or that you settled for it?

Don't settle, darling.  The world is already too full of mediocrity.  Stand out and be different.  Be the person everyone wonders how they can become more like.

(Click here if you live paycheck to paycheck.  Email me here if you want to be put in touch with someone who can help.)

8.28.2017

"Honest Feelings & Bad Timing Make the Most Painful Combinations"

I wish I had been brilliant enough to come up with that title, but no, as you see, it's in quotes.  I found it while scrolling through my Twitter feed.  I just had to save it to my phone because wow is it relatable, truthful, and inspiring.

I feel that many times we express our thoughts and feelings out of honesty and knowing that vulnerability is key to relationships and blossoming beginnings, but damn, occasionally the timing seems to be all wrong.  And I hate that.  I know it's not "wrong" because I believe that every last second is penned by a sovereign Master Planner, but in my finite mind, I wonder if things could've happened at a different time and actually worked out a different way, you know?  (At first, I typed "worked out.", but then thought "No.  It did work out.  Maybe not in the way I wanted it to, but it did, somehow end up at a certain end.")

There are always going to be "what if" moments in life.  And the majority of the time, we'll never have the answer to "why" or "why not".  But this should never stop us from being hopeful, from continuing to wonder, continue to pursue.  Honest feelings are good 100% of the time.  Because nothing is better than being honest and conveying your thoughts and feelings.  Bad timing is another thing, though, because you really should try to convey your honest feelings at an appropriate time.  But even if you think you did, and nothing comes of baring your heart, don't let that discourage you.  It just wasn't meant to be.  Plain and simple.  Sucky, I know, but true.

One area of honest feelings and bad timing happens often in the arena of love and relationships...

As a 20-something year old, I have a much different idea of what love is compared to what my 5-year old self thought.  When I was younger, "love" seemed like a far off fairytale dream.  I saw it lived out in my parents' marriage, and in my little mind, love was when Dad and Mama kissed or held hands and told us children that they loved each other.  It was something that made me feel safe.  That never made me doubt whether my parents would ever not be together.  As I've matured, love has become something I have learned a lot about.  Yes, there are times that it's soft and fragile, but more often than not, it's harsh.  Love is something to be feared.  It's a raw passion, an explosive firework; it's something reckless, real and dangerous.  This shouldn't make oneself afraid to fall in love, though.  Your heart is the strongest muscle in your body.  And your soul is the most powerful part of a human - for it is eternal.  And something eternal can, and will always, withstand the power of love.

I think probably the most difficult part of relationships comes from the way people inevitably change over time.  When you make a commitment, you're not only saying "yes" to the person you have grown to love in the present moment, but you're saying "yes" to continue loving and cherishing the person they will yet become in the future.  Whether you like the changes or not, you're choosing to love them through it all.  And sometimes, you are willing to love them wholly and fully, but they aren't.  And the honest feelings + bad timing becomes very apparent.  But here's the thing:
Love should feel secure and safe, yet have a wild side too.  You need someone who loves you enough to match your effort.  Most importantly, you need to know that love is important to life.  At the end of the day, all that's going to matter is love - and how you connected with the individuals around you, how deeply you loved them, how much of yourself you gave to them.  Don't ever think that a broken heart should stop you from feeling and giving love.

Now close your eyes and breathe.  And please understand that you are still young, and the universe is infinite, and no matter if you find human, physical love, God's grace and unending love will always be enough.  I believe it will always be the perfect piece that fits into that lonely, empty space in your heart.  No human could ever fill that void.  And if you need a perspective of the kind of love God has for us, here's a quote from an amazing man who I greatly look up to -

"Our loveliness to God doesn't rise and fall with our usefulness.  We are not a commodity for Him to use.  We are a treasure that He gave everything to buy back."
- Mike Donehey

8.07.2017

For Some Reason


A few months ago…

I was browsing through my Bible app in search of a new daily devotional to begin.  My eyes landed on one titled “Goliath Must Fall” - a shorter version based on a book by Lou Giglio.  I read the synopsis, started the devotional, but read too far ahead and, a devotional that should’ve lasted me a week, I was finished with in just a couple of days.  In it, Giglio refers to emotions and feelings such as fear, anxiety, stress, etc. as “giants in our lives”.  But by God’s power in and through us, they must - and will - fall.  It was a very encouraging little devotional and I wished I had made it last longer.

---

Sunday, July 30…

My church live streamed a message from our sister church in Montana where Lou Giglio was guest speaking.  The title of his sermon was “The Giant of Fear”.  There were a few things he said that really stood out and resonated with me.  But instead of going into a lot of detail, I’ll just copy what I wrote down in my note-taking journal:

“We can’t take down giants.  But the thing is, God never asked us to.  We aren’t the hero in the story called the Bible.  Jesus is our giant-slayer.  Fear is a crime scene.  It’s already dead, but it’s still deadly.  Yes, there may be giants in our lives, and you may not be able to control what happens in your life, but we can choose where to focus.  And choosing to lift your eyes higher than the giant, to Someone greater, can be what causes your whole life to change.  You can worship in the circumstance if you choose to see God in it.  And worship is a weapon that pierces the darkness and leads us to the light.  The antidote to fear isn’t courage.  It’s faith.  And the soundtrack to faith is worship.  You have the power over the playlist in your life.  And fear will fall at the sound of Jesus’ name.”

---

Thursday, August 3…

I had been having a pretty stressful day.  I was filled with anxiety, worry, and insecurity.  I kept trying to ward these feelings off by praying and listening to worship music, but nothing seemed to be piercing the veil of darkness I kept feeling around me.
After work, I decided to go to Ross to look for summer dresses.  I can safely say that I’ve driven to this Ross at least a dozen times, but for some reason, I took a wrong turn.
“Great,” I thought to myself as I turned a corner in the parking lot, trying to find an exit back onto the main street.  
To my left, I saw a building with the words “Life Way” on it.  A Christian bookstore.  
“I’ve never seen that place,” I said aloud.
Completely befuddled that something like a Christian bookstore had escaped my notice in the past times I’ve driven down the street directly in front of it, I decided I was in no hurry to get to anywhere and took the parking spot in front of its entrance.
Upon entering the store, I was greeted by a woman named Gwen who asked if she could help me find anything.  
“Not particularly, no,” I replied slowly, then blurted out, “Bible studies?  Devotionals maybe?”
“Right this way,” she said, and led me past four or five aisles until we came to one she waved me into.
“Thank you so much!” I said.
She laughed softly at my enthusiasm.  “Let me know if there’s anything I can help you look for,” she said before walking away.
I stood at the end of the aisle, looking at the shelves to the right and left of me.  I didn’t know what I was looking for.  I didn’t know which author’s name to search for.  I didn’t even know why I had thought of Bible studies and devotionals.
“Okay, God, for some reason, You had me make that wrong turn and led me to this place that I didn’t even know existed in this neighborhood.  You want me here.  Now show me what You want me to find.”
Immediately, I got this overwhelming sense of peace and felt God’s presence so strongly that tears came to my eyes.  He was here with me.  In this aisle, in this bookstore, in this city.  
I gently brushed the books in the top left shelf and mouthed the titles and author’s names.  I saw a few I knew but none of them really stood out to me.  I was waiting for confirmation.  I didn’t hear Him say “This is the one!”
I saw a thin little book tucked away in the others and pulled it out to take a closer look, but when I did, my fingers fumbled and I dropped it.  Reaching down to pick it up off the floor, my eyes went to the bottom shelf that I was now level with.  
“Goliath Must Fall”.  The words were big and bold in front of my face.  The book by Lou Giglio was displayed prominently, not like most books on a shelf where you just read the title on the thin edge of the cover.  No, this book was facing out, so I could read the whole front of it.
Now the tears really started coming as I reached for this book.  I turned it over and started reading the back cover.  Words like “fear”, “rejection”, “addiction”, and “anger” kept jumping out at me, but one line at the bottom said this - “…fix your eyes on the size of your God, not the size of your giant.”

And I heard God say “This is the one!  This is the reason I led you to this bookstore.  This is the reason you needed to come here.  I wanted to give this book to you.”

The price sticker said $16.99.  When I got to the counter, the lady at the register said that for some reason it was on sale for $11.


Okay, God, I see You.

8.04.2017

Ten Seconds of Courage

  
  It was just another day at work - making coffee and serving smiles.  I was assigned to register, being the first person the customer would chat with and taking their drink orders.  

    And then he walked in.

    I knew all of our regular customers by name and their drink orders by heart, but I’d never seen this guy before.  We made eye contact and I felt a weird sensation vibe through me.  Not only was he attractive but there was something about him that made me feel like I’d known him forever.  
    “Hi,” I said.
    “Hey,” he replied with a smile.
    The rest of our interaction was kind of a blur.  He ordered a freeze, paid with a card, had never been to our coffee shop before so I told him that I’d buy his next drink.  I asked him what he was up to and he said he was headed to work.
    I’m not the kind of person who gets nervous easily or fumbles around when a hot guy is talking to me, so it was definitely out of character for me to be as scatter-brained as I was during my exchange with him.
    After he left, I turned to my coworker.  “That’s my custie crush.”  (It’s kind of a thing, I guess, in the barista world to have a “custie crush”.  I hadn’t really had one up until the day I met this guy.)
    “Oh yeah?” she laughed.  “He was pretty cute.”
    I waited and waited for him to come in again.  Finally a couple weeks later, he did.  But this time, he ordered two drinks - the freeze and also a blended chai.  
    Dang it.  He has a girlfriend.  He’s probably getting this for her, I thought to myself as I made it.
    “Who’s the chai for?  I know you don’t drink chai tea.”
    “Oh it’s, uh, for a friend.”
    “Oh okay,” I said with a nod and smile, and my heart was like “Yay! I was wrong!”
    “Well here you go.  Have a good day!” I said.
    “Thank you, sweetie.  You too,” he smiled and winked at me.

    I didn’t see him for a few weeks after that.  I was sad, to say the least, but then told myself that maybe he didn’t live in the area and the times he had come in were just because he was passing through.  Oh well.  My custie crush was someone of the past.

    “If he ever does come in again, though,” I told myself trying to be hopeful, “I’m gonna give him my number.”

    I’m a huge believer in men being the pursuers, but sometimes, they need a little encouragement, ya know?

    One afternoon, a week or so after I had made that decision, my coworker and I were outside taking pictures for our social medias.  I heard a car pull into our parking lot and its subwoofers were bumping.  I turned to see who it was and lo and behold, he steps out of the car.  I was giddy with excitement, and then suddenly nervous.  I had promised myself that I would give him my number the next time he came in.  This was my chance.

    I rushed inside (funny story - we have special keys to get in the back door, but I didn’t have one with me, so I legit climbed through the window…) and was assigned for register on that shift (again).  There was a sweet, elderly lady who was a regular giving me her order right before him.  As I relayed her drink request to my coworker, I wrote my name and number on a stamp card in preparation to give to him.  But I wrote my name very sloppily (my hands were shaking, okay?), so I threw the piece of paper away and grabbed another one.  This time, I wrote my number wrong.  The same cell number I’ve had for about 6 years.  I threw that paper away too.  Finally I wrote my name legibly and the correct phone number and looked up into his beautiful hazel eyes and kind smile.  
    “Hey,” he said.
    “Hi… I haven’t seen you in a while.”
    “Yeah,” he said, “I keep missing you whenever I stop in.  Do you remember my drink?”
    “24 ounce extra sweet white mocha freeze, no whip cream.”
    “Good job,” he smiled, then handed me a full stamp card (so his drink was free) and started walking towards the drink pick-up station.
I had missed my chance.  The stamp card with my name and number written on it was still in my hand.  I was too nervous to call out after him though.  
    Dang it, Raquel, I thought to myself.  You’re never like this.  Just give the guy your dang number!
    “Hey.”  He had walked back to me.
    “What’s up?” I asked.
    “Wanna go out some time?”
    “When?” I asked.  “Tonight?”
    He laughed.  “Naw, I’m working, but - ”
    I cut him off by pushing the neatly written note towards him.
    He looked confused for a minute, then grinned as he read what was on it.  “Nice,” he said with a nod.  “I’ll text you.”
    After what seemed like forever (but my coworkers assured me it was only about 20 minutes), I got my first text from him.  We exchanged messages for a little while before he asked if I was free on Sunday.  I said that I was, after church.  He said that would be perfect and that he was excited to take his favorite barista out on a date.


    “I’m sure you already know this, but you’re very beautiful:)” he said.  “And also, I’m glad I got your phone number today.  I’ve been trying to get a hold of you somehow.  I’ve even called around to other coffee shops in the area to ask someone for your name and to give them my phone number for you, but I’ve had no luck.  Until today.  My dad always tells me that it only takes ten seconds of courage.  Hey, are you free on Saturday?  I got the day off and I don’t think I can wait till Sunday to see you…”

7.28.2017

"Nothing Will Ruin Your Twenties More Than...


...thinking you should have your life together already."



This statement resonated so deeply with me.

The path to our destination is not always a straight one.  It's a rather scenic route.  But maybe it's not about which road we take, but what we embark on.  Is it on our own judgement and the way we feel?  Or the truth that our soul knows and can trust?

Life is amazing and awful all at the same time.  And in between these climax moments is the routine, the everyday, the ordinary.  But the truth is that each of these times has significance in your growth.  If you were to fast forward ten years from now and choose to look back on these moments, you will see why they had to happen and for what purpose.

God says, "You're gonna be happy, but first, I'm gonna make you strong."  Because without the painful times of maturing, you won't enjoy the good times as much.

I know people who graduated college at the age of 19.  I know people who were making a million dollar budget by the time they were 25.  I know people who are single and have children.  Or people who are married but waited 5-10 years before having children.  I know people who love each other but aren't together.  Or people who hate each other but are married.  There are people waiting to love and who have so much love to offer.  You don't have to do anything just because you see others doing them or because someone tells you that it's what you should do.  I promise that the day you stop giving weight to people's opinions of what you "need to do" with your life, is the day you will feel free.

The point is, everything in life happens according to the time allotted us.  It may not seem fair, but the beauty of trusting in a sovereign Creator is knowing that He has a purpose through it all.  You may look at your friends and think "Oh they have their lives together", "They're so far ahead, and I'm so far behind", or "Why can't my life look more like theirs?"

Be patient.

You're right where you're supposed to be.

The best advice I've been given as a twenty-something year old is:  l e a r n.  Ask questions, make mistakes, learn from them, don't regret things because you never lose in life.

You either win or you learn.

7.13.2017

Are You Ready To Be In A Relationship?


This article isn't some sort of quiz or step-by-step process to figure out if you have "what it takes" to be in a relationship.  It's an article to help figure out for yourself if you believe you are ready.

Since when is it hard to be loyal and committed?  Since when does "being in love" mean just a phrase, not a deep soulful promise?  Why even try to be in a relationship if you're not ready or willing to commit to one person?  Figure out what you want before you go around investing time, energy and emotions into relationship after relationship.

You want to meet someone, have deep conversations with them, hang out, feel a connection, see that they prove their loyalty, and if it leads to something more, that's amazing.

I get that.

But if you're still figuring your life out and trying to understand who you are as a person, then don't mistake love for lust.  No one is in a hurry, but almost everyone is looking for that special someone to spend the rest of their life with.  You can so easily make them think you want more than you're making apparent.  That's when it can get messy, and that isn't fair for either of you.

Sure, there are instances when people misread your friendliness as interest.  Or you really did like them, but after a few dates, you just don't see it working out.  That happens.  And that's okay.  But learning the difference between being ready to pursue something or not will save you a lot of awkwardness and heartache.

I think that one of the greatest mistakes people make these days is thinking that "all it takes is to have a boyfriend/girlfriend".  "All it'll take to make them happy will be to have a significant other".  "Being in a relationship will be the best thing that's ever happened to them".
And no matter if they verbally admit to this or not, more than half of my generation most likely believes this.

But the truth is, a relationship isn't going to fix anything.  It's only going to make life harder.  Relationships take work.  Of course they're not as difficult when both people know how to communicate and know how to deal with issues correctly and maturely, but that's a skill that should be honed before committing to a relationship, you know?
All these "taking breaks from him/her" isn't how relationships should work.  If a few months into dating, you "need a break" from them, it's usually you that's the problem.  If you truly care for someone, you deal with your crap before you even start a relationship.  And if you actually end up marrying that person, you won't be able to "take breaks".  So learn now, okay?

I'm not saying that you have to have your life altogether before even considering dating someone.  You'll never have it altogether.  That's part of being a human.  You're always going to be working at improving yourself and the environment around you - even while you're dating, even when you're married.  But do you think it's fair to someone for them to be dating an individual who doesn't know what they want in life, doesn't know who they are, doesn't have goals, doesn't know how to handle conflict, doesn't know how to trust someone because they have huge trust issues in their past, etc.?

I'll answer for you.

No, it's not.

So the next question to ask yourself is - are you ready to be in a relationship?

And I'll let you answer that one.


---

This article was originally a guest post over at Embrace This Joyful Life.

5.31.2017

When You Don't Feel Like Loving God

I was talking to a pastor a while ago about feelings.

"When it comes to relationships," he said,  "I prefer to use the word 'passion'.  For when you are passionate about something, it's an undying love and sensation that will withstand time."

Now that's a thought, isn't it?

I had been talking to him about dating relationships, but I think the whole conversation could pertain to our love relationship with God.

Do you ever have those days when you don't feel like loving God?  You're not in the mood to read the Word or pray or go to church.  I think we've all encountered moments like this.  But does feeling this way make us bad Christians?  Or worse yet, does it mean we aren't truly saved?

I know a girl who claims to struggle with this on a fairly regular basis.  She's been baptized four times, is always asking for prayer for her spiritual life, because she doesn't feel saved.
Key word there: "feel".

What does it feel like to be saved?  Well, like many "feelings", you can't exactly describe it.  But passion, on the other hand, is something you can - not only believe - but see.

Passion is a fervor, an eagerness, a zeal, fire, energy, and enthusiasm.  You may not always feel this way about the LORD, but does your heart and mind long for His Words?  Does everything you do, say and think make you pause and wonder if it's a reflection of Him?  Are you living in a way that He would be pleased with?  Can people see this passion in your life of an undying thirst for more of Him?

It's great - to see someone who wants to be passionately in love with Jesus, to mimic Him in their every day lives and to always desire to talk about Him.  But we must also be prepared for the times when that's not at the top of our priority list.
Because it will happen.
Why?

"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..."
- Romans 3:23

This means that things happen, we commit sins, we take Him for granted, we forget who we are in His eyes, and when this occurs, we tend to lose sight on the whole love aspect of our relationship with Him.

Be prepared for these seasons, where you feel like you're barely hanging on to Him.  Be prepared for times when you don't feel like loving Him.  It's not the best.  It's scary, for sure.  Our sinful nature pulls us away from Him.  The enemy uses this to his advantage and whispers to us that we're better off without Him, we don't need Him, life is easier without all His "rules".  You'll start to feel yourself slipping away.  You won't want to read your Bible as much, you won't pray very often, you'll dread going to church or talking about God.
But this is where training and discipling our hearts and minds to want more of Him comes in to play.  Because it's not about feeling one way or the other.  It's about keeping that spark, that passion alive.

Be ready to fight.  Because love is always worth fighting for.  And honestly, loving God should be the easiest kind of love.  Why?  Because it doesn't cost us anything to love Him.  But it cost Him His very own Son's death.  A death that created a bridge over the chasm that separated our sinfulness from His glory.  Why do we take that for granted?  Why do we overlook His goodness and mercy?  His forgiveness covers a multitude of sins and yet we reach points in our spiritual lives where we don't feel like loving Him?

It's in these moments that we most need Him, though.  

And we have hope.

The passage in Romans continues... "being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.  This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God, He passed over the sins previously committed."

5.26.2017

The Story of How I Met An Attractive Guy...and Was Not Attracted To Him

Disclaimer: Please do not read the following if you are under 18 years old.

---

You clicked on this because the title was intriguing in either one of two ways -

"What happened after you met him?"

or

"How is this even possible?"

(Or maybe both.)

Well, let me tell you the story.  

He really was extremely attractive.  Tall, dark hair, blue eyes, chiseled features, deep voice.  (Think Colton Haynes type of look).  I mean, there was no way to not be attracted to him.

Until, he opened his mouth.

And it wasn't exactly the foul language that was a turn-off.  But the way he talked - about himself, about what he did the night before, about women - the way he objectified them and the way he bragged about all the things he's done with them.  
Now mind you, I was (at the time) a twenty-one year old woman standing in a group of five guys as this one super-attractive-slowly-losing-points-guy was ranting on and on, with a big smile on his face, about the strip club he'd recently gone to and how many dollar bills he'd tipped the girls and how he was unhappy with a certain lap dance he was given and how drunk he got so that $1,000 went missing from his bank account - which he only discovered the next day after recovering from his massive hangover.  
Needless to say, I could feel the heat rising in my face and my muscles started to tense.  But before I could say anything, one of the guys in the group pointed to me and said "She got a $100 tip at her work." (I'm a barista, in case any new readers are visiting)
Mr. Attractive-But-Not turned to look at me.  "For reals?"
"Yup," I nodded. 
"I've given that sort of tip before."
"Yeah, but I kept all my clothes on," I stated, firmly.
He snorted, while the other guys laughed.

The topic changed to marriage and he encouraged my friend to "Never get married because getting married is the worst thing you could ever do with your life.  I was married for 3 months and it was hell."
(Raquel's brain is thinking: Really?  I wonder why...)  

Yeah, that was pretty much the last straw for me.  I was livid.  I quickly turned and walked away.  Not because I didn't know what to say, but because I knew that if I opened my mouth, it wouldn't be a very good Christian witness.  I chose to not say anything because I knew that the moment I did, I would only say things out of anger.  It also just wasn't the right place to start a debate.  

Now what I'm trying to figure out is... Why?  Simply why.  Why does this guy have to be attractive but be a major jerk too?  Why does he feel the need to brag about all the crap he's been involved in?  Why does he cuss so much? - not just every other sentence but more like, his vocabulary consists of verbs, nouns and adjectives that are all cuss words.  His own brother even told me "Oh you two met?  Yeah, I'd hate to be a girl around him."

I drove away from that "conversation" in fumes.  I went to my family's and everything I touched seemed to either get thrown or slammed.  I was more angry than I'd been in an extremely long time.

A few Sundays prior to this encounter, my pastor had spoken on Psalm 19:14:


"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O LORD my Rock & my Redeemer."

I sure as heck don't live up to that verse every day.  I'm sure a few of my friends can testify that the words that come out of my mouth aren't always good or pure ones.  So that whole sermon really hit me in a convicting and humbling sort of way.  I was like "Wow.  Every thing I say or think about really does matter."  We will give an account before a holy and just God for every single thought we have, and every word we ever utter.

Meeting this attractive guy and seeing how unattractive he slowly became the more and more he talked made me wonder how often I have been perceived as such to others.  How many people have I met who thought I was a fun, cool, pretty girl but once they hung out with me for a while, they slowly changed their minds about me?  That really sucks to think about, because I'm sure it's happened on more than one occasion.  I wish I knew who I could apologize to and who I could re-meet so that I could live up to a better example of the One I serve.  It just goes to show how imperfect we, as Christians, still are.  Just because we preach about "having clean mouths" and "being good witnesses" doesn't mean that we won't be prone to fall short of our convictions.  But we need to constantly be aware of how we are portraying our Savior through not only our words and actions, but even through our thoughts.

Soon after we met, Mr. Attractive-But-Not tipped me a $2 bill for a coffee I made him.  He said that he had gotten it at a strip club when he pulled cash to tip the dancers.  (Apparently some strip clubs only give out $2 instead of $1 bills.)

I think beneath all the cussing and fake confidence, he really is just a kind, sweet, handsome man who has been hurt by the world and had made wrong choices in previous years that turned around and burnt him.  He knew he was hot stuff, though, and a lot of times, people like that will hide behind their outward appearance, hoping that others would just see them as hot stuff too - and not the real them.  Not the real person who doesn't want to show their broken heart, the scars, the mangled mess of torment they're in.

A year and a half later, I still have that $2 bill.  I pinned it up on my board to serve as a reminder to pray for him.  I haven't seen him since but hey, you don't have to be in contact with someone to know that God is using your prayers.

Oh and trust me, it reminds me to pray for myself.  God alone can testify to how many times I've had to bite my tongue to not utter negative words.  And I know my family, coworkers, and church family can say that there have been occasions when I said things that shouldn't have been said.  There's a fine line between honesty and too much bluntness, Raquel.  It's all a part of life.  It's a learning process.  The tongue is untamable, yet the Spirit of the One who made it resides in us.  Kind of a crazy thought, huh?

---

My pastor is currently teaching through a series called Voice Control.  Check out his messages here.

5.16.2017

Grace Defines Me

Today, I was thinking about my worth and how I view it, what I base my value on.  Do I define myself through the eyes of others, myself or God's?

I try to be as honest as possible, with everyone I know and through everything I do and say.  I want the way I live to be a reflection of who I am, a representation of my heart and soul.  Isn't that how it should be?  But so often, I find myself basing my actions on how I want others to see me - and it's not always honest.  For example, when I want someone to find me fun to be around, I have tried to do "cool stuff" that would make them think I'm trendy and hip.  It's stupid how shallow my immoral self can stoop for the approval of others.

And the world encourages this by saying we need to find value in what others think of us.  Or by the decisions we make.  "What you do defines who you are."  But by putting my view of what I think I am over who God says I am is simply wrong.  Why?  Because when I do that, I am basically telling God that what I say is more important that what He says.

And this is what He says:

God says to find my worth in how He sees me.
He reminds me that He loved me while I was unfaithful.
And He continues to love me through the many times I fall short of His glory.

Trusting in this truth defines me.  My mistakes don't define me.  Grace does.

Do you think that maybe God gets sad when He sees how we view ourselves and wonders, "What do you mean you don't love who you are?  I worked so hard on you and to Me, you're spotless and beautiful."

Don't let the shame of your mistakes cause you to walk away from God because you think you're somehow unacceptable, not good enough, or damaged beyond repair.  Look past your shortcomings and see the beauty of His love through His sacrifice on the cross.  Nothing you do will ever be too big, too great for the cross to cover.  He forgives you no matter what.  No matter when.

Grace defines me.  

And with confidence, I can say "It is well with my soul for I am deeply loved by the One who made it."


P.S.  Trust me.  I wrote this more for myself than for you.  My blog posts are pretty much just my thoughts that I choose to share because I feel that someone else out there can use the encouragement and reminders that I so often need myself.  You are not alone.  <3

5.11.2017

Chosen & Forgiven

We sometimes tend to focus more on our mistakes and regrets than on our victories.  But when we put things into perspective and realize that there is something bigger than our flaws, we can move forward with hope, knowing that Jesus is greater, Jesus is victorious and Jesus is on our side.

When God chooses you as His own, He did so already knowing every little detail about you.  Think about how He created you, yet He still purchased you - with the blood of His own Son.  He put Jesus on the cross for you, all the while seeing your sins and knowing your future ones.  He knew you would fall short of His glory, yet He did nothing less than to make a way of redemption and to bring you closer to Himself.  He knew, yet He still chose.

That's grace.
That's forgiveness.
That is love.

The Gospel of grace teaches that Jesus came in bodily form to this earth to take the penalty for our sins, to acquit the guilt, to be judged in our place.  The just accusations against us were more than we could ever try to defend and be freed from.  But He came to relieve us of it.  He came because our efforts would amount to nothing.  They would be in vain.  How can a mortal, sinful creature make itself right again the eyes of a holy God?

But grace declares that our guilt has been atoned by for the only One who is perfect and blameless.

We don't need to live under the burden of trying to gain back a right view in God's eyes.  "The ultimate demand has been met, the deepest judgement has been satisfied."

The good thing we can look back and learn from our mistakes because the LORD specializes in redemption.  He redeems us from our mess ups and allows us to warn others of how not to live.  What you do with the lesson you learn is up to you.  From this point forward, you can either live as confirmation of that redemption (a victory!) or your failure to learn from it and continue on in a lifestyle what will only continue to hurt you.

And no, you may not always "feel" forgiven, but the reality of it is, you probably never will.  Because grace is something so hard to grasp...  How can we receive such a free gift of something we do not deserve?

Simply because He chooses to forgive us.

Come what may, I can rest in the truth that I was hand-designed by the Creator, chosen to be His, bought with a price, and fully forgiven.  There is nothing greater than to know I belong to the only One who loves me and calls me His.

5.02.2017

"I am just a person but thank the Lord that I serve a God who's perfect"

Everyone talks about hitting rock bottom, but what they don’t specify is how differently it will happen to each of us
See, for me, it was hurting the person who I love most in this world and knowing that the pain I felt wasn’t just my own; it was theirs too.
Coming to such a point in life made me realize some big changes needed to happen.  It took hitting rock bottom to sort of wake me up, as it were.  I knew my life needed a new direction, but I guess I had just been too scared to admit it.
I had tried before.  I had tried to make things different.
To be different.
To start over.
To be a new person.
But I felt like the dragon Eustace who shed skin after skin only to realize that no matter how many times he did it himself, it wouldn’t come off completely
The sin, the dirt, the life he had been living could only be changed and could only be removed by the deep, cutting claws of the untamed Aslan
This is what I learned in my own life.
Hitting rock bottom for me involved seeing how much one little mistake, one little decision, could affect not only myself, but others.
It could hurt not only myself, but the one I love the most.
I was humbled beyond any point I have ever been.
I was disgusted with myself and who I had become.
I was disappointed that I had chosen such a path and had been pretending like everything was okay.
Or thinking it was going to be, anyway.
The only thing one can do when they reach that point is to make a decision -
And there’s really only one.
I could choose to change.
I'm the only person who can resolve to do so.
I'm in charge of my life and what I do, and how I live it.
And no, I'm not perfect.
I'm going to screw up.
Everybody does.
But choosing to learn from those mistakes and deciding to apply the lesson to my tomorrow is what makes me a stronger individual.
It hurts…
Hitting rock bottom.
I didn't realize how much until it happened to me.
I cried for a whole day afterwards, wondering how in the world I was going to pick up all the pieces and try to continue living life.
But what I didn’t realize is that I’m not the one in charge of making my life beautiful.
I’m not writing my story.
Yes, I have free will.
And yes, I can decide which path to take in life.
But regardless of that, He’s already been there - 
And sometimes, He needs to chip away at all the nastiness that has built up until nothing is left but crumbled pieces of myself.
Something I have seen and testified with my own eyes is that He specializes in making beauty from ashes.
Oh it’s one of His favorite things to do!
And isn’t it just like Him to go above and beyond anything we could ever ask or imagine?
Cuz that’s just what He does.
So in the momentary pain of reaping the consequences from a simple little stupid choice, I can still move forward, I can still live another day, knowing with absolute certainty that if I set my mind to becoming a different person, I won’t be fighting alone.  
He’s on my side.  He’s still got me.  
And He just loves me.  

It’s as overwhelming, yet uncomplicated as that.

4.03.2017

21 Things I Have Learned In 21 Years


I've learned that...
no matter what happens, life goes on and tomorrow is a new day.

I've learned that...
making a "living" is not the same as making a "life".

I've learned that...
I do get second chances.  From God, from others.  And for that, I am extremely blessed.

I've learned that...
even when I've had pains, I don't have to be one.

I've learned that...
people won't always appreciate, respect, care for or trust me, but that shouldn't change the way I treat them because if it does, then I'm stooping to their level.

I've learned that...
the best company I can keep is just me and God.

I've learned that...
letting go of someone who has constantly manipulated my heart and caused me hurt and grief, is one of the most freeing things I could ever do.

I've learned that...
every day is an opportunity to give to others what you have received, and to love on them.  A hug, a cup of coffee, a smile, a compliment.  It doesn't have to be anything extravagant.  After all, it's the little things in life that matter the most.

I've learned that...
people will forget what I said and what I did, but they will never forget how I made them feel.

I've learned that...
sleep really is necessary and if I'm not getting the rest my body needs, my brain will start working in weird ways and stuff will get messy.

I've learned that...
goals are essential, dreams are a must, and striving forward towards them is all about discipline and determination.

I've learned that...
it doesn't matter when I reach a goal, but that I did it to the best of my ability and with the best intentions.

I've learned that...
money isn't everything.  I need it to survive, but I don't need it to live.

I've learned that...
I'd rather be broke and tired with a night full of memories, than rich and well-rested yet lonely.

I've learned that...
memories are made without even realizing they're being made.  So live life well, minute by minute, cuz I never know what I'll remember or not.

I've learned that...
just because I love someone with everything I have in me doesn't mean they will return that love.  But this doesn't mean that I should be afraid of ever loving again.

I've learned that...
people don't have control over the way I react or how I allow them to affect me.  If there's tension or drama, stay clear of it.  If I'm in the middle of it, don't let it get to me.  Rise above it.  Be mature.  Stay calm.

I've learned that...
regardless of the relationship I have with my parents, I will always miss being away from them and they will always be there for me when I need them.  More importantly too, they will always love me.

I've learned that...
God and family really are everything.  Other people may come and go but these two are forever, so I need to invest in those relationships because whenever I hit rock bottom, they will be all I have.

I've learned that...
nothing will ruin my life more than thinking I should have my life together already.

I've learned that...
I still have a lot to learn.

---

P.S. I meant to post this on my birthday, which was Saturday, April 1, but I was partying all weekend so heyyyy.

3.25.2017

When I Don't Have It Altogether


I'm just trying to figure stuff out, you know?  But I don't know how to.  And it frustrates me because I'm the type of person who likes to have goals, likes to have a plan, likes to have a step-by-step process outlined for accomplishing things in life.  I don't have an ounce of patience, which is definitely something I need to work on.  And maybe that's what God is teaching me right now because wow, is it hard...

Have you ever felt like you're just trying to catch up?  You're trying to get the bills paid, you're trying to make ends meet, you're trying to make the right decisions, you're trying not to fall flat on your face.  This is what my life has consisted of lately.  But I never feel like I fulfill my goals.  I feel like I'm falling short of it.  Like I'm standing on my tippy-toes, stretching as far as I possibly can, but it's just out of reach.  And I don't know what "it" is exactly.  Maybe it's just getting to a level of feeling like my feet are under me and I actually have control of my life for once.  Yeah, I think that's it.
But I never get there.  And it frustrates me to no end.  I feel unhappy.  I feel unfulfilled.  And I've heard a lot of people say that "There's a void in your life that only God can fill", but I know this isn't that void.  Because my relationship with my Jesus is healthy, it's strong, we're in constant communion.  I talk to Him all day, every day.  I spend hours of time in His Word.  I eagerly look forward to Sunday mornings to be able to go to church.  I'm not saying all these because it "makes me a good Christian".  I'm stating facts about my spiritual life to show that no, I'm not lacking in that.  So what is this empty feeling I have?  Why do I have it?  What does it mean?

Well, to be honest, I don't know.

And that makes me even more frustrated.

I was telling a friend about this.  Well, more like blubbering it because I was so emotionally distraught and just plain worn out that I was crying while talking.  He reminded me that God has a plan for all of this.  And I was like "Yeah, well it's hard and it hurts and I don't like it.  I'll never understand why and how something beautiful can come from something so painful.  But I guess that's what makes Him such a Miracle Worker."

He's up to something.  And I'm gonna have to wait and see the reason behind all of this waiting and learning and listening and crying.

In the end, I know it'll be worth it.  I have to just keep reminding myself of that.

Maybe you're going through something similar.  Maybe God is testing you, like He's testing me, and having us work out our faith through patience and trust.  It's hard.  I know exactly what you're feeling.  Trust me.  And in my experience, it's always encouraging to know that I'm not the only one feeling this way, so I pray it's the same for you.

You aren't alone.

God is good.

Stay the course.

3.20.2017

I Don't Know What To Title This


Have you ever had a passion, a hobby, something you loved doing so much, and one day you couldn't anymore?  For some reason, your brain just wasn't letting you, your hands weren't cooperating, your attention span was zilch, and nothing creative came to mind?

That's what it's been like with me and writing lately.

I'm a writer.  Writing is part of who I am.  It's in my blood.  It's an outlet.  It's a passion.  But lately, I've felt like I just couldn't.  I don't know why.  Why would I not be able to do something I love?  I've felt burnt out and not creative whatsoever.  I feel like nothing new has come to mind to write about.  Every time I've sat down to attempt at compiling sentences, nothing came to mind, my fingers didn't move, my brain was just one big blank.  Why can't I do one of the things I love the most?

It scares me.

I was telling all of this to a fellow writer friend of mine and he answered,
"Writing will always come and go throughout life.  Love is hard.  In every way."

I liked how he used "writing" and "love" as synonyms.  They do go hand in hand, so I guess it makes sense.  At least from my viewpoint.
I love to write.  And I write because I love it.  But they are both exasperating - these two.  They can both be so difficult sometimes.  And in those moments, you don't feel like doing either, but you know you should because...well, because it's part of who you are, I guess.

Being scared of something doesn't mean you shouldn't try though.  If it's something you want, if it's something you're passionate about, if it's something you love, then what is stopping you from at least taking a step forward in that direction?  If it doesn't work out, if nothing comes of it, at least you know you tried.

It's better than doing nothing and just wishing things would happen, right?

I guess I'm writing this all to myself.  I got done ranting to my friend and was so frustrated with myself for whining that I knew I needed to write to myself to get a move on and take a dose of my own medicine.

But I hope some part of this helps you.  Maybe you're going through the same thing.  Maybe you're experiencing the same difficulties.  But gosh, I hope you just try...

3.10.2017

Come To Him Broken


So often, I think we feel unworthy to come to God with our problems.  We think He's too busy for us, to hear about our petty needs, to forgive us over and over again.  We have this mentality that we need to look pretty, have our lives together, seek Him in a peaceful state of mind, in a room with candles and on our knees in prayer.

But I don't think that's accurate.

I think that life is messy.  And we're messy.  And we're broken.  And sometimes, all we can come to Him as is lost, hurting, confused, and guilty individuals.  Sometimes we don't know how to pray, but we know how to scream and cry and yell and beat our fists into the air.  We know what "to be hurt" means.  And when words fail us, and frivolous prayers escape our thoughts, we can only come before Him tired and dirty and broken.

I think we have a hard time accepting the fact that we can come to Him like that because we know how awesome and holy He is and it scares us to even consider coming to Him in such a state of chaos.  But if we understand His holiness and sovereignty, then why can't we understand His grace and love too?  If He loved us so much that before we even knew Him, He sent His Son to die in our place, then how much more does He love us now and want us to draw near His throne of grace?

Come to Him broken.

He knows life is difficult.  He knows life is pain.  He understands, He can relate, He is all seeing.  And if the Creator of the universe can understand that, then He can understand our confusion and passion and anger and the cries of our hearts.

Don't hold back.  Don't stay away.  Come to Him as you are.  And if that means in a shattered state, holding your heart in your hands, then so be it.  Don't let fear and guilt and worry about being and looking presentable keep you away from His loving and open arms.

Come to Him broken.

And what a joy and thrill it is to know that He is all-accepting?  That He is all-forgiving?  And nothing you can do will make Him love you less.  He is full of grace and forgiveness.  He has compassion on our weaknesses.  And in the midst of life's cruel tsunamis of suffering and agony, He remains the steadfast lighthouse of constant guidance and love.

Come to Him broken.

He specializes in putting back together pieces and making something even more beautiful than before.

3.05.2017

The Righteous In This City


"Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it?...Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five?...Suppose forty are found there?...Suppose thirty?...Suppose twenty?...Oh may the LORD not be angry, and I shall speak only this once: suppose ten are found there?  

And He said, 'I will not destroy it on account of the ten.'"

Throughout a passage of 9 verses in Genesis chapter 18, this exchange takes place between the LORD and Abraham.  I always found it fascinating that, in a city of an estimated half a million, God said He would not destroy it for the sake of but ten righteous.

In a crash course on my church's foundational beliefs, the teacher spoke of community and the need to be "like redwoods, and not like tumbleweed".  Why?  Because Redwoods' roots grow deep into the ground and intertwine with each other causing such strong stability that they are able to grow up to 350+ feet tall.  Tumbleweed, on the other hand, have no roots; they blow to and fro by any amount of breeze, and look ugly and dead.  Having community and fellowship causes strong bonds through which the unity can be spread through the culture and in whatever place believers are planted in.

A thought struck me when I heard this.  It was the passage from Genesis that I quoted above, but also this -
How different would we live if we thought to ourselves: "Am I the righteous one in this city, in this neighborhood, on this street?  Am I the one God planted here to reach out to others?"

Are we the reasons He is showing mercy to this country?  To this world?  

God doesn't have to let us wake up every morning.  He doesn't have to let our lungs breathe for us.  He doesn't have to let us live.  Yet He does.  Why?  Because He has a plan and purpose for each of us, in whatever state of life we're in, wherever we are living.

Our Father will always have a remnant.  He loves His children and wants to bless us here on earth, until He calls us home.  But while we're here, how are we showing our true colors?  How are we showing others that we are His?  How are we practicing our righteousness?

If God chose to destroy certain cities today, like He did Sodom and Gomorrah, would yours be left standing?

2.11.2017

Response To Readers: Learning To Trust Again, episode 1

This is the first installment in my "Response To Readers" series.

---

"I've had a very painful past with my father leaving our family for another woman when I was just a little girl.  Because of that, I have a very hard time trusting people and feeling secure.  I recently started seeing someone.  He has given me no reason not to trust him, but I can't help but wonder when he's going to leave or when will he want someone else.  And I hurt his feelings by feeling this way.  He understands my past, but it still hurt.  
How do I stop having trust issues when he has been nothing but trustworthy?"

This was probably one of the most heart-breaking questions I've received.  "Trust" is such a big part of life and I've never been in any sort of situation to experience such betrayal and pain as this girl had.

I sat here, staring at my laptop, for a good ten minutes, wondering just how I was going to reply to her.  I seriously had no idea how to say everything I was thinking - and if what I was thinking was even a good answer.  I feel inadequate to be answering such a deep, painful question.

To the girl who submitted this question:
Thank you for trusting me enough to ask it.  I know it's a painful part of your life, and I feel touched that you would ask my advice on it.
Sweetie, even if your father hurt your family by leaving - and continues to hurt you by ignoring your letters and phone calls - your Heavenly Father will never leave you.  I know it's hard to try to grasp the concept of the Creator of the universe being there for you, but it's something that none of us will really understand how and why.
But it's a promise that He gives us in His word.
"I will never leave you or forsake you".
The boyfriend you have in your life right now sounds like someone special.  It sounds like you think a lot of him and that he has become a prominent person in your life.  But if you're still struggling with trust issues, it may be wise to back away from him for a little while.  If he understands your past and has given you no reason to not trust him, then he must respect and care for you a great deal - and will gladly do whatever you feel is best for you at this time.
For you to "stop having trust issues" isn't an overnight thing.  It takes a lot of time, patience and love from the people around you.  If your boyfriend is still hurt with your difficulty on trusting him (even though he knows about your father), that's not your fault.  If he's a good guy, he'll give you the space and time you need.

My biggest suggestion and advice is that you strive to grow closer to God through this time.  Seek God's will for your life.  Trust Him with your life.  He loves you more than any mortal man ever could.  And He cares for you more than your father or boyfriend ever will.

If you still feel insecure about who to trust, and if someone you grow close to will soon just decide they don't like you anymore and not want to be around you, you need to bury yourself even more in God's Word.  And I'm sorry to say that you will encounter people like this.  People will come and go.  It's a part of life.  It's a part of growing up.
But I promise you that the ache and pain of betrayal and denial won't be as sharp if you remember that God is within arm's length from you.

Stay grounded in His Word.  Stay focused on Him.  Rejoice in His love for you.  Trust that He will never leave you...

...

'And they that know Your Name will put their trust in You; for You, LORD, have not forsaken them that seek You.'
- Psalm 9:10

2.10.2017

She Chose

She didn't lose him.  She let him go.

She didn't let him go.  She pushed him away.

She had to walk away, she had to move on.
Not because she didn't care for him anymore or because she was bored of who he was.
Not because she wanted things to end.

But because it was what was best for her.

Staying was hurting her, leaving was painful, trying to love the person he used to be was killing her.

She didn't want to cut him out of her life.

She didn't want things to end.

She did try to make it work.
She never doubted he wanted it to work out too.

But sometimes, life is against us.
And life was against them.

And she was forced to choose.

And she chose, she decided, she walked away with her head held high and her heart torn.

And with every step, she reminded herself that things weren't the same anymore and no matter how much she tried, no matter how much she waited, no matter how much she went back to square one to start all over again, to try again, life was changing.  And she was changing with it.  And he was too.

She didn't forget him.

She didn't hate him.  She never could.

She was just tired of being unhappy and thinking that they would be happy together.
She was tired of asking him why he was hurting her.
Instead, she asked herself why she allowed him to continue causing her pain.

Because, truth is, in another life, she would run back to him in a heartbeat.

But right here, right now, she was walking away.

And it was the right thing to do.

And it was going to be okay.