Are you missing out?

Distractions can take many forms. Often, they can keep us from focusing on what really matters. When we are distracted in church, we miss out on really experiencing God in the service.

I’m a firm believer that you get what you put in… If you want to receive from God, you have to make yourself willing and ready to receive and hear God. 

Distractions in church can take many forms. Technology is a big (obvious) example. Many times people are more worried about texting, scrolling Facebook, or playing Candy Crush in church to really get involved with worship or hearing the Pastor’s message. 

Routine is another less obvious example. When we as a church worry about the Sunday routine, we limit the Holy Spirit from really leading the service. What do I mean? Well, prayer should only be during these moments of the service, we should only have this many songs, and the Pastor dare not let service run past 12 PM because we’ve got to get to lunch. 

Our own attitudes are the biggest distraction. Where are your heart and mind at during church? Are you too busy being cynical and criticizing the people and service around you to actually be silent and expectant to receive from God? Example: an older woman (who attends every church service and can usually be overheard muttering snippy comments about others under her breath) began this morning’s service by stating to her friend, “this is always a terrible song, just try to tune them out.” This was in reference to the choir; meanwhile, most of the congregation was enthusiastically worshipping along with our choir this morning. It made me feel bad knowing that someone missed out on experiencing God’s presence because she was too busy griping about her song preferences. 

Then I felt worse realizing that I’ve done the same thing. I have also spent some services completely distracted by my own preferences, personal  offenses, and irritations… To the point that I couldn’t even tell you what happened in the service.

I’m making a personal vow today to stop being distracted, not only in church but at home, at work, and in my relationships. 

In Honor of the American Soldier

Beautiful Life with Cancer

Ehhhh….do I have any right?….I shy away from writing the Memorial Day post. I have no right. Return to my business of the family cookout and let someone else write that post.

And I realize, I can return to the family cookout. I have my family. I have my freedom. I have the right to write this post…and that is why I have the obligation to write it.

We are not a military family. I do have two grandaddys, that are now in heaven, that fought for their country during WWII. Their stories, although few that they could share, were awe inspiring. I have seen American Sniperand other movies that cause my soul to take a deep breath. But that is as far as my experience goes.

Unless you have been there you can not understand! I can not begin to fathom what it is like to see your…

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Things Every Graduating Senior Should Know

I’m not sure what prompted this, but lately I’ve been thinking about the past ten or so years of my life, and I’ve realized things along the way that I think could be useful for the younger generation. Things I wish someone would have told me ten years ago.

1) It’s perfectly normal to not have your life figured out by the time you graduate. 

I remember entering high school and being given a career aptitude test; even before this, I remember being constantly asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I changed my mind dozens of times before graduation, and even more after. Some people do know what they want to do, and that’s really awesome. Some people know by the time junior year rolls around that they’re going to college to become a teacher, or a nurse, or a lawyer, or going to trade school. That’s great! For many others, it’s just not that easy. You can’t predict the future and you can’t know where you’re going to be at in life a year from now… five years from now… ten years from now.

In 8th grade, I boldly stated that I would go to school to be a meteorologist after graduation. By graduation, I had changed my mind and switched my path toward elementary education. By the two-year mark in college, I had switched my major to psychology, then sociology, then social work. Midway through junior year, I had a mental breakdown and dropped out of social work school. I transferred to a different school hours away to study biology with the goal of working for a zoo. Didn’t last long – I ended up back in sociology, and then once I finally got my head on straight, I realized that I was meant for nonprofit work and went to graduate school for public administration.

I’m not the only one – 50-70% of college students change their majors at least once during college, and most change majors multiple times. So if high school graduation is quickly approaching, or maybe it’s already passed, and you’re still not sure what you want to “be” or “do”… you’re not alone, and it’s ok. Take this time to explore options, get gen eds out of the way, job shadow family members or other people in professions that interest you, find a part-time job to save money, find somewhere to volunteer… this is the most impressionable time of your life, so make it count.

2) Community college is a great thing.

I hear a lot of people speak negatively about community college – that it’s glorified high school, that only the real losers from high school go there, the people who couldn’t get into “real” colleges or universities. I remember junior and senior year when we all started receiving info from colleges, filling out applications, getting accepted, and proudly announcing where we would be attending after graduation. Our local community college was known as “ICC,” and it was thrown around as an insult. “He couldn’t get accepted anywhere else so it’s off to ICC…” Even though a lot of people from my high school ended up going to ICC, it wasn’t like they were boldly declaring their school pride.

I was accepted to several colleges and offered scholarships, but I didn’t feel ready to leave home quite yet and I was very concerned about the cost of college. Even with scholarships and grants, we would need to pay some tuition, all of the books, and room/board if I went away anywhere.

College…is expensive. If you stay in-state and go to a public university, it’s less expensive, but by no means cheap. Private colleges… cost even more. Out-of-state school? Expensive. What’s that, you have to live on-campus? Not cheap. In 2013, the average annual cost for tuition and room/board at a public, in-state university was around $15,000; private schools cost more than twice that on average. For some people, this is not a problem. I was jealous of those people. It felt like they had more options because their parents were helping them pay for school – not an option for me. Not an option for you either? You’re not alone – at least half of college students receive no financial help from their parents.

Bottom line – the first two years of college are almost always just getting gen eds out of the way (math, English, history, etc.) and there’s nothing wrong with doing that at a community college. Especially if it’s less than half of the cost of a “real” college.


Please, please, please… consider all other options before signing your life away and taking out student loans during college. Other options include finding a less expensive school, working out a payment plan and paying your tuition during college, or cutting down to part-time if you can. Not always an option and it’s nearly impossible in this country to graduate without at least some debt. But consider these things before you go taking out loans:

– Are there any grants or scholarships available, even if it means going to a different school?

– Are you certain of your major at this point (this applies more to sophomores/juniors)? (If you’re not, why take out loans to pay for a wasted semester of school?)

– Have you researched thoroughly and realistically considered the job market you will be entering with the degree you are choosing? I don’t mean reading the list of possible jobs you can have with your major… I mean checking into how many graduates are getting hired, what type of jobs they are being hired for, how much money they make on average after graduation, etc. This is so important because… you will have to pay these loans back. (Six months after graduation, typically).

– Have you done the math and figured out about how much your loan payments will be? Do you know who your lender is and what type of loan you’re taking? Personally, I feel that colleges leave a little too much responsibility on the college student as far as fully understanding student loans goes. It can get very confusing, especially if you don’t have much experience with financial matters. Ask questions, read the paperwork, do your research first.

– Understand that the more loans you take, the longer you will be paying them back. Understand how interest on these loans works.

4) Peer pressure doesn’t end just because high school did.

I remember being warned by adults that high school would be very challenging because of “peer pressure.” Even now, I hear a lot about “peer pressure.” Sometimes, I believe we are led to believe that if we can make it through high school, the hard part is over. I wholeheartedly disagree. College is still full of immature, irresponsible kids who care more about having a “good time” than planning for their future. (Obviously does not apply to everyone). If anything, you will be challenged even more during college. You will meet people from different towns, states, even countries. You will meet people with totally different belief systems than you. You will learn quickly that college students love to stay up until all hours of the night, play really stupid drinking games, and make really poor decisions. Unless you are a hermit and completely antisocial, you will likely be invited to participate in these activities.

More than anything, many college students want to feel like adults and live like free-spirited adults. Often, this is equated to drinking alcohol, because drinking alcohol is a very grown-up thing to do. If you don’t want to drink, you may feel pressured by your friends to do it anyway. You may get made fun of or excluded from activities. You will be called weird and quite possibly boring. May I offer this advice? If you don’t want to drink, just don’t do it. Be secure enough in who you are to feel comfortable turning others down. It’s not “weird” or “boring” to choose not to drink. It’s your choice.

It’s not just about drinking. You may feel pressured to hook up with people, because that’s very, very normal on college campuses. You may feel pressured to skip class, or to cheat, or to slack off on your homework. You may feel pressured to subscribe to another person’s belief system or question your own. You may feel pressured to settle down, get married, have kids, etc. Peer pressure didn’t end at your high school graduation. It will last for the rest of your life – but you have the power to change your reaction to it.

5) There’s nothing wrong with waiting to have sex.

I remember starting high school and knowing that a few of my friends had already “done it,” and my older cousin telling me that by the time I got done with high school, most of my friends wouldn’t be virgins. Well, she was right. In fact, I was one of the only girls I knew who was still holding out on having sex. I felt like I needed to defend that because the rest of my friends thought I was weird for it. Multiple girls in my class had already had babies by graduation, or were pregnant. Being “sexually active” (ugh, loathe that term) was completely normal and expected. When you dated someone, it was generally expected that you would “do stuff” sexually with them. Guess what? That only gets worse in college.

You may feel like because you are now a legal adult, you need to date like an adult and have sex with the person you are dating. You may feel like you should hook up with someone because everyone else you know is doing that. Don’t feel like that. You’re not alone. You do what you want and don’t let anyone make you feel like less of a person for it. Anyone who would pressure you to do something that you don’t want to do is not worth your time. Don’t let a boyfriend have husband privileges (saw that on a friend’s Facebook page today and loved it – so, so true). So many relationship problems could be solved if people would stop treating their significant others like they are spouses. If you want to treat your significant other like a spouse, then marry them. If you’re not sure if they’re marriage material, then guess what? They aren’t sex material either.

And finally, 6) Realize that high school is over now and you are about to enter a completely new phase of your life.

Some people graduate and then stay in their hometown, keeping the same friends for a lifetime, settling down with their high school sweetheart and starting families. That’s awesome – if that’s you, congrats! For others, we want to explore – we want to meet new people – we want to see what else is out there. You’re young – go for it! Now is the time to explore, before you have tons of bills and responsibilities.

You don’t have to stay near your family and you don’t have to keep the same friends. If that’s not your desire, don’t let others make you feel guilty for leaving. Do not let your high school friends or your family members talk you out of leaving if it’s what you really feel like you want to do. If other people want to stay where they are in life, good on them. It’s not for everyone, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

You’re now considered an adult, and you have your own life to create and worry about now. Your own path to take. Don’t let others make you feel bad if you want to branch off on your own path and stop taking theirs. Expect some, if not many, of your high school friendships to fall away in the years after high school. Expect even a lot of your college friendships to fizzle out. You will likely move around, hang out with different groups of people, switch jobs, date different people. That’s life.

Be ready for lots of changes and transitions! Look for opportunities to learn and grow in every job, every friendship, every class, every day.

30 Prayers for 2015

I’ve never been good at making or keeping New Year’s resolutions, and this year I decided to do things a little different. I came up with a prayer list on Sunday that I plan to fill out with specific needs and pray over every day in 2015. I’m believing to see miracles over the next year. I wanted to share the list I will be using so that others may join me.

30 Prayers in 2015

-3 prayers for friends
-3 prayers for family members
-3 prayers for my home
-3 prayers for my church
-3 prayers for my work/school
-3 prayers for my community
-3 prayers for my thoughts/attitudes
-3 prayers for my physical body
-3 prayers for my spiritual growth
-3 prayers for my finances

Psalm 15: Who will stand firm forever?

Psalm 15
Who may worship in your sanctuary, lord?
Who may enter your presence on your holy hill?
Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right,
speaking the truth from sincere hearts.
Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors
or speak evil of their friends.
Those who despise flagrant sinners,
and honor the faithful followers of the lord,
and keep their promises even when it hurts.
Those who lend money without charging interest,
and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent.
Such people will stand firm forever.
Those who live according to God’s word and not as hypocrites.
Those who live in such a way that the world cannot accuse them of wrongdoing.
Those who genuinely believe with God-changed hearts.
Those who mind their own business, don’t talk about other people,
and don’t gossip behind their friend’s backs.
Those who hate sin, refuse to let unbelievers pollute their lives,
and seek encouraging fellowship with other genuine believers.
Those who give even when it hurts, not just their money,
but their time, their attention, and their ministry.
Those who devote themselves to serving the Lord and stand firm,
refusing to make excuses or put their personal comfort first.
Those who give freely and expect nothing in return.
Those who care more about truth and purity than approval and advancement.
Such people will stand firm forever. Such people will enter God’s presence.
I’m feeling a little convicted after reading this. Are you?

Taking a step back.

Over the weekend, I decided to take a break from certain things that have taken up too much of my time and energy.  I found that I was feeling discouraged, frustrated, and irritated pretty often, usually as a result of too little prayer time and too much social time.  My feelings were causing me to question my involvement in ministries, in my church, and many of my personal relationships.  I realized that a lot of my irritation stemmed from Facebook, so I decided to cut that out first.

Facebook.  The social media site that I hate to love, and love to hate.  I remember when Facebook started, it was only used among peers my own age (college/high school) as an alternative to Myspace.  In more recent years, it seems like everyone and their mother, and their mother’s mother, is on Facebook.  Kids, grandparents, aunts, uncles, pastors… lots of different people with lots of different opinions.

I think what’s driving me crazy about Facebook is that people’s true colors start to show anytime something culturally relevant happens (i.e. this whole Ferguson situation), and whenever that happens, I realize that I don’t necessarily like what I see.

I don’t like reading hateful, racist articles, or seeing people get in heated discussions about political matters.  I don’t like the haughty, holier-than-thou attitude that is projected.  I don’t like reading about every minute, intimate detail about someone’s personal relationships or family situations.  I don’t like when gossip is disguised as a “prayer request” on a public forum.  I don’t like when someone will avoid me in real life but then stalk my page.  I don’t like that one of my first instincts when something exciting happens is to think that I should post it on Facebook.  I don’t like that people think they are entitled to know about my personal life, or assume they know me well based on what they’ve seen online.  I don’t like when face-to-face conversations start with “do you know what I saw on Facebook” or “I saw that so-and-so posted something about…”

I’m just uncomfortable lately.

There are some obvious benefits to Facebook.  For example, I love seeing friends and family members updates, especially when I live far away from them and can’t be part of their day to day life.  I love seeing new babies and growing babies and my friend’s children.  I love that it’s an easy way to keep in contact.

But I don’t know if I want much to do with it anymore.

Christians… Why Does Lifestyle Matter?

Lifestyle: The habits, attitudes, moral standards, etc. that define the way of living for an individual or group.

The “typical” way of life.

I often hear well-meaning Sunday School teachers, pastors, parents instructing children and teens on how they should live, talk, and act as Christians.  I’m the type of person that doesn’t just blindly follow instruction – I need to know WHY.  Why does it matter? It’s important to not only teach our youth how to live a Christian lifestyle, but why it’s so important.  I looked to the Bible for some answers, and here’s what I came away with.

1) Your lifestyle matters because it affects other people.

Whoever or whatever consumes most of your time will influence the way you talk, the way you relate to the world, and the habits you pick up.  On the flip side – if people are spending time with YOU, then YOU are also influencing them.

Whoever heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads other astray. (Prov. 10:17)

The way you live as a Christian can either follow the Word of God and draw people towards Him, or it can go against the Word of God and turn people away from Him.

Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Cor. 15:33)

If you surround yourself with bad influence, it changes who you are. (And if you are the “bad company,” you are corrupting someone’s character!)

Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? (1 Cor. 5:6)

Even small matters can have a lasting influence. Attitudes are contagious.

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. (Prov. 27:17)

The way we live should positively influence the way others live. As Christians, we should help each other grow, instead of hold each other back.

If we call ourselves Christians, we are a walking example of Jesus to everyone around us, all the time, whether we
want to be or not. Sometimes our lives are the only Bibles people will ever read; your lifestyle has the power to either draw people closer to God, or make them want to stay far away. Your lifestyle matters because it can affect another person, and it is your choice whether that influence will be positive or negative. You don’t just affect “unbelievers” – you affect other people in your church, too.

If you say you believe in Jesus and believe he is the only way to salvation, and you claim to be a Christian, you should want to live in a way that sets you apart from the crowd and causes other people to want to know more about the God you believe in.

2) Your lifestyle matters because it reflects what’s in your heart.

Your lifestyle will reflect what’s in your heart. If your heart is full of jealousy, your lifestyle will reflect that. If your heart is full of joy, your lifestyle will reflect that. If your heart is full of God’s love, your lifestyle will reflect that. Whatever your heart desires most will form the foundation for your lifestyle. What do you desire most? Do you desire the approval of God, or the approval of people?

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. (Prov. 4:23)

Watch what you let into your heart – if any voice other than God’s is speaking to your heart, be mindful of what path you’re
actually on.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. (Prov. 3:5-6)

This doesn’t say “follow your heart,” “follow your feelings,” “trust what your heart says,” “go with your gut,” etc… it says TRUST IN GOD. If your heart determines the course of your life, and you are supposed to trust God not with part of your heart, but with ALL of your heart, then the only way to stay on the path of God’s will is to do exactly that. Let God have every bit of your heart. If you are putting your trust in anything or anybody else, you are setting yourself up for failure.

The human heart is most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who can understand it? (Jer. 17:9)

If the Bible says our human hearts deceive us, why would we try to follow our human hearts instead of following God’s heart?

But the words you speak come from your heart – that’s what defiles you. From the heart come evil thoughts, murder,
adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. (Matt. 15:18-19)

Sin comes from the human heart. A lifestyle focused on what the human heart wants is a sinful lifestyle that separates you from God.

Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. (Matt. 7:20)

If your heart is full of God’s spirit, your lifestyle will bear the fruit of God’s spirit. Your actions, i.e. your lifestyle, will demonstrate where your heart and priorities really are.

A transformation of the heart will result in a transformation of the lifestyle. When God changes someone’s heart, their human desires should no longer control their lifestyle. When we are acting in our human nature, we will always resort to sin. When we are focused on God, our hearts are guided by His spirit. Transformation is a PROCESS, and it may require major lifestyle changes.

3) Your lifestyle matters because it matters to GOD.

We are saved by God’s grace, not by our works, so we can’t claim to have “earned” salvation by doing all the right things… …but that doesn’t mean God doesn’t care about how we live. It doesn’t mean we get to do whatever we want to. We are God’s witnesses on this earth – God desires his church to be worthy of that calling and to glorify Him by the way we live.

Do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing you will be saved on the day of redemption. (Eph. 4:30)

Our lifestyle can please God or bring him sorrow. Which one do you choose?

…so live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God. (Col. 1:10)

This is the type of lifestyle that God considers worthy of his calling. One that bears good fruit through actions and increases knowledge of God.

But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to be in him must live as Jesus did. (1 John 2:5-6)

God wants us to obey his word and live like Jesus did. He looks at our lifestyle as evidence of our love for God.

If your lifestyle matters to God… shouldn’t it also matter to you? If your lifestyle reflects what’s in your heart… shouldn’t you be careful of what you let guide your heart? If your lifestyle isn’t just about you, but affects other people… shouldn’t you care about the way you live, talk, and act?

If we all have to give an account to God at the end of our lives (spoiler alert: we do)… what kind of lifestyle do you want to live now, with the time you’re given? Do you want to be a light in this darkness, or just another shadow?


“Savages.” “Animals.” “Worthless.” “Scum.” “Disgusting.” “They all deserve to die.”

I live not far from Ferguson, on the Illinois side – about a 20 minute drive.

The first time the looting and rioting happened, back in August, I remember being not just upset at what I was seeing on every news station, but sad at what I was seeing on my own Facebook feed.  (Or on the #Ferguson Twitter feed).  Yes, the actions of the looters was and is despicable – but so is the hate-filled response coming from people who worship God next to me every Sunday.

How can someone say in one breath, “Praying for all those in Ferguson” and “My heart goes out to Ferguson” and “I love everyone because I’m a Christian,” and in the next breath, “These animals looting the stores disgust me” and “Mike Brown deserved to die, he hit a cop” and “These people aren’t worth anything” and “I’m glad Darren Wilson killed that savage.”  All I can gather from that response is that sometimes, Christians have difficulty praying for and truly loving people who don’t behave or dress the way they “should.”

I’m glad that God loves unconditionally, because His people sure struggle with it.

Last night, after the grand jury’s decision was announced, and the looting happened again, along with the fires being set to cars and businesses… I saw the same things being said again. I also saw people peacefully protesting and not being acknowledged because people only focus on the looting. I heard our President comment that violence and criminal activity is discouraged, but that it makes for “good TV.” I’ve listened to people at work and at church and online, most of whom are only focusing on the looting and only expressing hatred for the criminals. Many of whom are generalizing all of the Ferguson protesters and dehumanizing them, belittling them, referring to them as felons and animals and idiots and worthless thugs and supporting the police using lethal force to combat any threats against them.

I’m not condoning violence, or looting, or rioting, but I am struggling to accept that “if you hit an officer, you deserve to die” is a Christian response. I’m struggling to understand how one can truly “love thy neighbor” while speaking such hatred about them.  I’m failing to see any humor in the situation and I’m ashamed that people I worship with, and people on the Internet, almost all of whom are white, are making light of the situation and cracking jokes about a community being burned to the ground.  I’m disturbed that so many Christians I know are so quick to comment that if anyone trespasses on their property or threatens them, they won’t hesitate to shoot them.  I’m confused about how Christians can say they are pro-life, yet they are also pro-murder – because if it’s murder to take another human’s life, I’m confused about where to find justification for “killing in self-defense” or “using lethal force” anywhere in the New Testament.  Because I’m pretty sure that the Bible says “thou shall not murder” and that Jesus told us to turn the other cheek when someone strikes us, not retaliate.

Black Lives Matter.  ALL Lives Matter.  Not just the ones we count as “worthy.” All lives matter to God, and no matter how despicable someone’s actions are, no matter how much they offend us or upset us, Jesus still died for them just as much as He died for us.

When a community is in pain, and when topics offend us or make us uncomfortable, the Christian response should not be to make jokes, dehumanize, and blow off someone’s pain because we “don’t agree” that it exists.  Tell me, how does that do anything to unify people or spread light in a dark world?

These are just some thoughts.

Happy birthday, mom.

Today would have been my mom’s 51st birthday.  She didn’t even live to see her 30th.

I remember nothing about my mother.  I have a few pictures of her, and a few keepsakes that her mother gave me awhile back.  I do remember her voice, because I’ve heard it on home videos, but I don’t remember what she was like, or what we did together, or things she would say to me.

Maybe this will sound cold, but sometimes I feel relieved that I don’t remember anything.  If I don’t remember anything, then it’s hard for me to miss having her here.  Let me explain – my mom, from what everyone has told me, was a wonderful, loving, and memorable person, and she is still missed deeply by people who did know her well.  But for me, I never missed HER, because I never really knew HER.  I missed the idea of her, I missed the presence of her.  I am only able to remember HER through other people, through pictures, through old videos.

I am glad when people tell me that my mother, even though she died at 26, lived a full and happy life.  I am glad when they share memories and stories and talk about how much they loved her.  It reminds me that she was a real person, someone who really made an impact, just by loving others and being herself.  She never did anything tremendous… never was famous, never got an impressive college degree, never held an important title… but she was a wonderful wife and a loving mother. She was a best friend and a sister, an aunt, a daughter, a granddaughter.  During the last few years of her life, she was a Christian who was active at church and would take me and my grandpa with her.  She is remembered and she is loved.  Everyone who ever talks about her can’t do so without a smile on their face… everyone always tells me she was beautiful and radiant and a light in their world.

How will you be remembered?  I wonder how I will.

Life here on earth is not guaranteed, but death certainly is.  How will you make the most of the time you have been given? How do you want people to remember you?

I want people to remember me in the same manner that they remember my mom.  I want to be remembered for loving, for encouraging, for making a difference, however small.  I want people to remember me as a Christian without me needing to use words to convince them that I am.  I want the life I live to speak loudly and shine brightly.