84 Days – Graduation Reflection

gown          Today marks 84 days until I graduate college. And that’s kind of a weird statement to me, only because this day and this time have been a future kind of thing for me. It’s never been, “oh I’ll graduate college soon.” It’s always been, “I still have a year to go.” I’ve never really looked at it as I was one step closer – I was looking at it like I still had miles more to go.

So now. This profound moment. What do I have to show for it? Anxiety. Tears. Pride. Thanks to God.

In a swarm of trying to finish this semester, work, and begin making plans for my life post Bachelor’s degree, I have found a few pillars that stand as truth.

Number one: this was the first thing I can legitimately say I did all by myself.

From start to finish, no one but me is responsible for my college education.

Now for everyone who has prayed for me, mentored me, or given me advice – please don’t think I’m excusing you from the success I have had these last three and a half years. Let me explain.

If you have read my conversion series, you will know that I don’t come from a stereotypical, American home. I’m not going to lie – it was rough. I was forced to take on responsibility at a young age, and I often find myself wishing I had more of a childhood. So when I began looking at colleges, I knew I wanted to get away and I knew I needed to get out. I was (and still am) a dreamer living in a small town that was stifling me, instead of directing me and my bigger-world ideas. I didn’t know what leaving would grow to mean to me now, but I also didn’t know how to go about doing it.

But I learned – quick. And let me tell you, there is nothing more humbling than asking a bill collector for a brief lesson in how to pay your bills.

So when I walk across that stage to accept my diploma, I’m going to be reaching for something I’ve been running towards for the last three years.

Number two: rooting, and uprooting.

After I became a Christian, I had a community of people rallying behind me, willing to help whenever and however I needed it. It was a resource I left untapped for almost two whole years, simply because I didn’t know how to go about asking for help.

Now that I’ve not only established my home church, but I’ve connected with brothers and sisters here in Russellville, I’m understanding another facet of community – rooting and uprooting yourself.

I have made friends all across the city, not just in church. School, work, coffee shops, art galleries, and even sources from my stories. These people are what I think of when I think of “Russellville.” And it’s not like there’s a sense of finality with my move. It’s the fact that when I move, these won’t be the people I’m referring to when I talk about going to work. They won’t be my coffee shop conversations; they will turn into a weekend getaway and maybe a business trip.

The same goes for home. Here at school, “going home” means piling my laundry and homework into the back seat of my car and turning on Pandora for the two hour car ride. Sometimes I’ll have to call my boyfriend to keep me awake, because driving home on Friday nights after a long work-school week are peaceful enough to put me to sleep.

But now, going home will mean returning to an apartment after worship. Going home will mean running back to change clothes before my friends and I go bike riding. I won’t have to wait anymore for the weekend – I will be home.

Number three: Glory be to God

College will hold fond memories for me simply because this is where I met Jesus. This is where I gave my life to God; went on my first mission trip; shared my testimony; fell short of the glory of God; and so on. I have matured so much, spiritually, in the two years I have been a Christian, and all of that growth has been in the foreground of my college education, family problems and social struggles.

This time of my life has been unforgetful, challenging and rich. But I can’t say that my success and perseverance has been because I’m a strong willed woman. I can’t say that it’s been because I’m dedicated to my craft and my education. When I think of how far I have come, and why I’m able to get an education as a single woman in the first place, it’s because of God.

God has heard my cries of frustration and upset and pushed me to persevere. God has calmed storms of confusion and emotion and given way to rational thought. God has stood firm in His teachings and calling, and welcomed me back with open arms when I struggled with temptation or gave in to whatever fleeting emotion ruled my actions.

God. God has been the constant in this time of evolution.

***

Today marks 84 days until I graduate college, and that’s kind of a weird statement to me. I don’t think of everything I’ve done to build my resume or the tears I shed trying to get assignment after assignment turned in on time. I think of the people I will be walking away from, some only to become a memory I reserve a spot for in my heart.

So to you, the game changer, the friend turned memory – I’ll be thinking of you when I walk across that stage.

Being a Renter is like being a member of the Church

As of July 18, I have been living in my apartment for a month. A whole month. 30 days.

In the times of peace I get, I think about how I got to be blessed with a place to call “home.”  A place to make a home. A place to praise the Lord in. It wasn’t too long after I moved in that I realized something; I wouldn’t have been able to get into my apartment if it hadn’t been for the church itself. Once that idea planted itself in my head, I couldn’t shake it off. And soon, I began drawing some parallels between renting (in my case, from a company) and being a member of the church.

  1. You’re taking care of something that isn’t yours.

I equate renting to borrowing something, because that’s essentially what I’m doing. For a certain amount of money each month, I am paying for a space that’s not mine, but a company is letting me borrow. At the end of our agreement, in this case a lease, I am to give what I’ve been borrowing back in the condition I found it in. If I damage the property in any way, I am responsible for what is to come.

In the same sense, think of your body. God has given us this flesh, this house for our souls. We have free will, meaning we can do with it what we want; but it isn’t necessarily ours. God calls us to keep it free from defilement. My mind automatically goes to Galatians 5:19-21, where Paul says, “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like: of which I tell you beforehand, just as I told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God,” (NKJV).

Notice Paul is talking about physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of the body. What a lot to be responsible for! All of what Paul talks about seems to dwarf the fact I have to change my air filter once a month and sweep the kitchen every few days. But just like sweeping and changing the air filter, it’s important I’m diligent in what I do so I can properly serve God. That means I have to take care of my body physically, mentally, and spiritually. We all have to – they aren’t ours to do with what we please.

Now let me be clear – I’m not saying that our physical bodies go with us to Heaven when we die. I am saying that we are to give our bodies (in the physical, spiritual, and mental sense) back to the Lord.

How can we do that? Think of things like media consumption and every day speech. Are you watching trashy YouTube videos, or reading a book of the Bible? Are you putting your health at risk by participating in premarital sex or recreational drug use? Do you take the Lord’s name in vain? If this body is a vessel for the one true God, we need to keep it internally and externally pure.

  1. You will pay for the damages you cause.

This house, the one that has been trusted to me, came with carpets that need to be stretched and a drawer in the kitchen that needed to be replaced. Even though it’s chipped and smudged, this is still the place I call home. However, evidence of wear and lack of care are all over the place. Should I decide to do more damage, the cost of repairing those damages is on me.

Spiritually, I think of this principle following along the lines of “you reap what you sow.” If you live a life that is not pleasing to the Lord, you will not hear the words, “well done, good and faithful servant.” You wield weapons capable of hurting those closest to you. You walk in darkness, away from the God so willing to bring you back and be a child of His. I’m speaking from personal experience here – I did the whole atheist thing (if you want to talk about religion or my past experiences, please comment below). I said whatever I wanted to, whenever I wanted to. What did I get? Broken friendships and bitter arguments. The same applies to others – a few people closest to me have made unGodly decisions, and myself and others now have to live with a shattered family dynamic. Some of the choices I made still haunt me today, and they are mistakes and decisions I have been forced to live with.

But there is hope, and more importantly, redemption. If you practice your faith, evangelize to others, immerse yourself daily in the Word, and follow His commandments, you will have purpose and run a race worthy of an eternal reward.

That’s not all you have to do, though; living a Christian life is more than Bible studies and Sunday worship. It’s daily bearing your cross, denying yourself, and choosing to follow God and His will for your life. I’m not going to lie to you – it’s not easy. And anyone who says otherwise should get a slap on the wrist. But it’s the demands of the race – take comfort in knowing the community that [runs] beside you is struggling with keeping up just as much as you are. But don’t let road bumps, leg cramps, and dehydration be defining factors in keeping you from your eternal reward.

  1. You’re trusted with much.

I had to clear a background check.  I have to pay my rent, on time, every month. I have to remember to change my air filter and take the trash out. The company I rent from didn’t make the decision to take me on as a tenant lightly, and I don’t think I would have been able to care for an apartment just a year ago.

Now that I look back on it, I can see the baby steps I had to take to get to where I am now. First, I was trusted with time management. Then a car. Then school and a couple jobs at the same time. Now, I have a place to call my home. My getting an apartment (I’m convinced of this, anyway) is almost like a culmination of my college career. This entire time, God has been preparing me to take on the responsibility and do more “adult things” with my life. However, I can’t lose sight of the reason I have what I have.

Renting

I have what I have because God has trusted me. To the best of my ability, I have obeyed His commandments, freely loved Him and gave my life to Him, and strived to love His other children. Am I successful 24/7? No. Will I always pay my bills on time? No. For both counts, there will be times that I fail and fall short. But I don’t want to lose the trust I have earned from my landlord or God – I have to take care of the little that I have so that I can be trusted with more.

At the end of the day, as I lay my head down to sleep, I have a bed, security, comfort. What a blessing, and what a rich reward.

For those of you who haven’t seen my apartment, know that it’s quaint, sparsely decorated, and being used for God’s Kingdom. I have dreams of tea parties and group Bible studies, and should I get the opportunity to make that happen, I can assure you that I will do everything in my power to give glory to God. In fact, I think that’s a challenge I have for you, reader. What have you done to give back to the Lord?

My Conversion Story – An open letter from Megan

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“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.”

–Hamlet, Act 5

            She was head-strong. Independent. Goofy when with her friends and loud when she wanted her voice heard. She could be impatient and sarcastic with those who annoyed her, but she was also good-hearted and fiercely loyal to those few she called friend. She questioned. She analyzed. She thought. In all my years of teaching, I saw in her one of the most logical minds I have ever encountered. It’s not that she refused to feel emotion; she just refused to let it be the sole influence of her beliefs—Sierra Murphy didn’t make life-changing decisions on a whim.

She made no secret of her atheism in a conservative, small-town school where most at least claimed to believe in God even if they didn’t all actively pursue the lifestyle that belief demanded. Her junior year, she was one of six students in the second section of my AP Literature & Composition class—a class where we discuss the big ideas of life and what it means to be human. We read, analyze, and debate Twain, Fitzgerald, and Shakespeare. When students voice a view, I ask why. A lot. I push them to explain and elaborate their ideas and support every single one of them with evidence—not merely regurgitate what they have been told by an adult in a position of authority. As a public school teacher, I don’t publically proclaim my religious beliefs, but one of the cornerstones of my faith is that those who seek will find. So I teach students to ask questions, look for evidence, and above all think for themselves. I teach them to seek. More importantly, I choose to love and treat with kindness every single individual who passes through my door, regardless of gender, race, religious belief, or personal background. I try to plant seeds in their lives and manifest the fruits of the Spirit in my own. And occasionally a door will open. Often in the most unexpected way.  Towards the end of Sierra’s junior year, I asked students to analyze the meaning of the title to Zora Neale Hurston’s classic Their Eyes Were Watching God. While most students discussed the symbolism of nature or the climactic hurricane at the end of the novel, Sierra chose to take that opportunity to discuss her disbelief in any supreme being and the isolation from her community she felt as a result.  I simply wrote “I’d like to hear more about this sometime” on her paper and gave it back to her.

And so began a string of letters outside of school that addressed everything from hypocrisy in the church to evolution to reasons and evidence for my own personal faith and trust in the Creator of the universe. And I knew. I knew that if her logical, independent mind could just see that faith is not blind, that if her eyes would open to the One worthy of her trust in a world full of people who had failed her…I knew doubt would turn to belief. And once that happened? I knew she wouldn’t waver.

But that shift in worldview didn’t come quickly. It took three years of letters, phone calls, text messages, a challenge to read the story of Jesus, prayers for wise answers when the questions came from one who had no background or understanding of true Christianity, and hours of pouring over the evidence that points to a Creator and His Son. She asked me once if she would have to change anything about her life even if she decided to believe. I smiled and said, “You won’t be able not to.” And steadily a study of scientific, historical, and archeological evidence eventually turned to a deeper study of the Bible—the only absolute truth we have. Man stopped talking and the living Word of God spoke. And Sierra listened.

One evening while I was getting my children ready for bed, she called and left a voicemail excitedly relaying her first attempt at prayer to the God she was starting to believe in. She said she listed all the struggles and trials she was currently facing and then gave them over to God and immediately felt like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. And then she asked, “But that isn’t really an answer to prayer is it?” I simply pointed her to Philippians 4:6-7—“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” She seemed awestruck.

And not long after that, one muggy August night after church, Sierra Murphy confessed her belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and accepted the life-giving waters of baptism. Fire was ignited in a soul.

She hasn’t looked back.

———

Sierra, thank you for allowing and trusting me to be a part of your journey through this life. You’ve taught me and strengthened my own faith more than you know. Recently, another teacher you were close to in high school remarked on how much you have changed, how much “less angry” you are. I responded, “She’s replaced it with love. And it’s all because of Christ. It’s all Christ.” I pray you keep your steadfastness and desire to grow into the woman the Lord wants you to be. Continue to show His love to others in the world you are no longer of. Plant seed. Bear fruit. Continue to use your mind to test what man says against the Holy Scriptures. Use the talents you have always possessed—use your voice to shine His light. And always, always, let the divine Lord continue to “shape your end.”

My Conversion Story – Tips for you

A few Sundays ago, someone at church gave me the idea to share my conversion story on my blog. “It’s not something I, or anyone else that’s grown up in the church, can relate to,” he said. 

Knowing I can reach others and relate to others because of what I have gone through, I decided it was time to look a little more closely at how God worked through me and others at that time in my life. Because of His love, redemption and power, I am no longer a slave to sin, but walk in newness of life.

To God be the glory.

***

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Wow.

What a journey this has been. Reflecting on the past three years of my life have brought me greater understanding about what God has done for my life and the path he has put me on. While I’m still not sure where I’m going to be come December (after I graduate college) I do know that my God is going to get me through it.

***

Anyway.

If anything, I pray that my conversion story has taught you the importance of discipleship, and that’s something I’m going to reflect on in this post. I have compiled a list of materials that got me through my studies, as well as some tips I have come up with to help those BEING discipled, not those doing the discipling (I don’t think those are actual words, but you get my point).

Let’s dive in.

Materials List

  • “The Case for a Creator” by Lee Strobel. This book was an excellent starting point for someone like me, who was (and still is) so focused on truly understanding the “why” behind how things work. Strobel uses a fine tooth comb to vet his sources and interview them about some of faith’s challenging, scientific explanations. For an atheist that believed in evolution and the Big Bang Theory (cough, me) this was a great read. It also gave me a lot of alternative sources to look to for more advice. While I didn’t end up straying away from this particular book, I did like the fact it gave me more places to turn to for information and validation on the information I was already reading.
  • “The Case for Faith” by Lee Strobel. This is another book in a series Strobel did. In it, he uses the same approach as he did in “The Case for a Creator,” but he attempts to find the answers to many of the questions challenging faith today. “If there’s a loving God, why is there genocide?” is an example of the types of questions found in this book. While the book is heavy on content, it’s a great read and an excellent way to get some of the more challenging questions answered. For the follower, it’s a great way to prepare yourself for answering some of the more tough questions about faith.
  • Jule Miller film strips, circa before moving picture was a thing. I’m not going to lie to you – these were brutal. The film strips go over the history of the entire Bible, steps of salvation, who Jesus was, and how we can live the life we need to be living (as Christians). In it’s entirety, the series is about seven and a half hours long, and I watched it all in one sitting. DON’T DO THAT. JUST DON’T. *** While my brain wasn’t happy with the information overload, they were an invaluable resource. I would equate them to a crash course on the Bible – I learned everything I needed to know about it’s history, the time periods, and the basics in this video series.
  • An English Standard Version Bible. Several of my friends now use a New American Standard Bible and I use a New King James Version. However, the language in the different translations was a lot harder for me to understand and therefore made my studies harder to get through. In the beginning, until I had an understanding for the writing style and the content I was dealing with, I used an English Standard Bible. I would recommend one to any beginning Christian, until you become fully able to pursue your studies using another version.

Now. I know some who have spoken out against Lee Strobel, and I would like to be frank with you – I politely refuse to acknowledge your statements. The fact that he might not be a member of the church was not something that concerned me at the time of my conversion – I wanted a reliable source that I could rely on for information that would be irrefutable. I was dealing with changing my world view, here, something that proved to change my life. I wanted to know that the information I was consuming was leading me in the right direction. So to Strobel supports and non-supporters alike, he gets my stamp of approval should you be looking for proper study materials.

***

Shifting gears here, there were a few things I knew I couldn’t go looking for, and those were tips about how to deal with converting. Like this entire series has prefaced, I began this series to share about my experiences, experiences many within the church simply can’t relate to. That being said, I would like to share some tips for those of you who may be going through the same thing I was going through.

Tips for the disiplee

  • Compare anything against our ultimate guide and shield – the Bible. Hear me out before you roll your eyes at me. The Bible is a magnificent book in and of itself; that’s an undeniable fact. Sixty six books with several inspired writers writing during several different time periods, all documenting prophesies that were fulfilled – no discrepancies. Say what? Those facts alone should make you want to read it! But if they don’t, get yourself a Bible and start comparing what you’re studying against the Bible. There’s a reason Christians today say it’s the “ultimate truth.” So compare. Take what the world says, other religions, other sources – compare it all against the Bible and see how the two measure up. I can assure you – the Bible will win every time. 
  • Remember why you’re studying. It’s not to pick a part an other organized religion or get bogged down in all the related topics and notions you will come across. You’re going on this journey to find the truth- stick to that path.
  • Be open to prayer. When I was studying the Bible and I would tell people what I was doing, they would give me funny looks. To this day I still get people asking me why I study the Bible. I take it all and lay it at the feet of God. At the end of the day, I understand that while I may not be the most mature Christian I know, I am still trying to follow God and do what I can to please Him. Even if you’re just starting out, you have to honor your walk with God as well. So I encourage you to take your struggles and worries to God in prayer.
  • Find a mentor. Find a mentor. GO NOW. FIND ONE. I can’t stress this enough. Again, even as a woman who has been a Christian for two years, I am still looking to other men and women for advice, Bible studies, whatever I can get my hands on to learn from them. And when I look back on my walk, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was not equipped, knowledgeable, or patient enough to go through something like a conversion had it not been for my mentor, Megan. In fact, I still go to Megan! She has been an integral part of my walk with Christ, and continues to be. I encourage you to get a mentor who can share in this experience with you. Just remember – you need to be looking for someone who is knowledgeable, practicing what they preach, and who can guide you how you need to be guided. If they themselves are bogged down in sin and not studying the Word of God, how are they going to be able to guide you? This is your soul we’re talking about – don’t go easy on this.

***

I can’t help but look back and send a prayer of thanks to God for everything He has done for me. Three years ago, I never would have guessed I would be sitting here, willingly trying to mentor others through a conversion to Christianity. Reader, I encourage you to have a listening ear for the rest of the week. How is God calling you?

 

My Conversion Story – Today

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A few Sundays ago, someone at church gave me the idea to share my conversion story on my blog. “It’s not something I, or anyone else that’s grown up in the church, can relate to,” he said. 

Knowing I can reach others and relate to others because of what I have gone through, I decided it was time to look a little more closely at how God worked through me and others at that time in my life. Because of His love, redemption and power, I am no longer a slave to sin, but walk in newness of life.

To God be the glory.

Today, I am living in my first apartment. Today, I am one semester away from getting my Bachelor’s degree. Today, I am striving to be a better woman for God.

I am a 21 year old journalist entering into my last semester of college (eek!). I like to write, cook, sing, write, scrapbook, spend time with loved ones, have deep conversations, and write. But I’m not going to lie to you – I don’t have it together. There are days when I forget to put on deodorant and for some reason I still trip over my feet. But I’ve stopped seeing these kinds of things as shortcomings, and instead I see them as important fibers – they just happen to be parts that make up a whole.

As a whole, I would say I’m a pretty cool chick. I like to wear t-shirts and jeans, but I don’t feel completely “put together” unless my hair is done and I’m wearing mascara. I’ve been told I’m a “wise beyond my years,” and that I don’t behave like my 21 years should. And that’s okay – I’m hoping should God get me to 60 they tell me the same thing!

Kidding.

When I think past my long fingers and pidgeon-toed feet and really reflect on the journey I have taken to get me to where I am today, I see pain, anguish, and sorrow. I see my tattoos as outward scars that remind me of turning-point decisions. I take note of my behavior and remember the key moments that molded me into who I am today (I am a huge fan of reflection and learning lessons from our experiences).

What I’ve come to realize, though, is I am just now beginning to focus on the positive forces that have kept me on the Path. I’m just now becoming baffled at the things my brothers and sisters in Christ have done for me:

 

  • I have a spiritual mother who gave me the room to fumble, helped me pick myself back up, and repeated God’s Word over and over again when I needed it most. She gave me a place to call home, a safe place where I could cry and express my frustrations. What I consider most important, she gave me someone to be accountable to and reminded me that I’m always accountable to God. For that reason, I always remembered my purpose on this earth.
  • I have a mentor that I still go to for advice and direction. She has had faith in me, she’s prayed for me, and she’s set an example for me to follow and look back on. Without her love for my soul and patience for my personality, I wouldn’t have learned what discipleship in its truest form actually is.
  • I have a family that literally spans the globe. My time in Estonia taught me that no matter where I am, our God is alive and He is working through everyone – purple, orange, Russian, atheist. Our God has influenced nations! Those within His church are grappling with their own problems, but willing to lay everything down at the feet of God to help a brother or sister in Christ. They sacrifice, struggle, and persevere.

 

I don’t know why it has taken me almost two years to look back in awe at the way God has helped me and moved through others to reach me. Maybe it’s because I was young in my faith. Maybe school became too much of a focus for me. No matter the reason, I can tell you right now I was missing out.

I live my life so aware, now. I see the pain in the world, and I pray for peace and unity. I see the struggles of non-Christian friends, and I pray for understanding and mercy. I see the relationships that I’m fostering, and I say a prayer of thanksgiving. By being in tune with the world around me, I have, by default, become more in tune to my faith. The strangers that I see struggling aren’t just people to me anymore – they’re souls in need of saving. My body isn’t a few organ systems covered in sin – it’s a temple that houses the Holy Spirit, and needs to be treated with respect.

***

As a person, I would say I haven’t changed much, but I can definitively say I have a better understanding as to what I like and don’t like. My favorite color is light green; I love to cook; I can’t sing well, but that doesn’t stop me from singing; the news makes some people frustrated with the world, but it gets me excited about figuring out the truth; I am a creature of habit; I struggle with patience and positivity, but those are also some of the two biggest things I work on.

To the people who knew me before my conversion, please know I do think about you. Some may feel as if I dropped off the face of the planet, or I’ve changed so much my life is no longer recognizable, both of which are sad (but true) facts. I did take some time for myself and I don’t do half of the things I used to. But I’m still Sierra – I’m still the quirky girl you hear before you see. But, I have chosen to strive for meekness and a attempt to gain greater understanding for the world around me. And that world, created by our loving and great God, is a good one.

So reader take some time to think. Think about where you are in your walk with God; are you wandering away? Are you a faithful follower? No matter where you are in your walk with God, I pray that you will be able to appreciate Him and all He has done for you.

My Conversion Story – Part 3

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A few Sundays ago, someone at church gave me the idea to share my conversion story on my blog. “It’s not something I, or anyone else that’s grown up in the church, can relate to,” he said. 

Knowing I can reach others and relate to others because of what I have gone through, I decided it was time to look a little more closely at how God worked through me and others at that time in my life. Because of His love, redemption and power, I am no longer a slave to sin, but walk in newness of life. 

To God be the glory.

 

It was there, in child’s pose, that I let God have my failed relationship and wrongdoings. It was there I felt a weight lift off of my shoulders, but a new weight take its place. My cross. My burden to bear as a child of Christ. I knew I needed to get baptized, now I just needed to come to terms with it. But was it worth it? A failed relationship and a broken home life? Was I going to be able to make it on my own with classes just a month or so away?

What was I going to do?

***

I prayed.

I prayed that the God I didn’t understand would take my burdens and sorrows from me. I prayed for peace amidst the storm going on at that point in my life. I prayed for relief.

It was there, in child’s pose, that I felt the weight of my sins being lifted off of my shoulders and being borne by Christ. It was there I gave up myself and began to trust God.

While I don’t remember the prayer that I prayed, I do have my first “official” prayer; I wrote it in a journal I kept when I was younger. It reads:

If there’s anyone out there, please keep myself and those around me in your thoughts. I’m doing the best I can with what I have, but sometimes I can’t catch a break. I’m not so bad off, though.

            “Please bless Kevin and April. They took me on, provide for me, help me provide for myself. They’re good people.

            “Please help the neighbor next door. Or just think about her. Please watch over the puppy we can’t take in. Please bless Matt and Megan, for their kindness has touched me deeply and they will forever be in my heart.

            “Please keep my blood family in your thoughts – all of them could use some white light and good energy.

            “You make my heart happy and I’m listening to your direction.”

Now that I look back on that, I see that as a pretty misguided and misunderstood prayer. But then, it was anything but.

See, I was your classic “see the first couple steps but not the staircase” gal. I didn’t know what being a Godly woman meant. I didn’t even know what the fundamentals of being a Christian (besides baptism) were! I just knew that 1) there was a God who brought His son to earth via virgin birth; 2) that son walked this earth, proclaimed the Gospel, and died for me; 3) I had been living my life wrong and needed to change. It wasn’t easy, though; I was a very prideful person bent on the fact that I had been living a lie. I was hesitant to admit that I needed to change and questioned whether or not I even wanted to change. But I knew that no matter who I didn’t feel responsible to and no matter how I behaved, God was real and He was calling me to Him. My lifestyle was against His outline for our lives, and the guilt I had ate away at me. That was when I decided to make a change.

***

My trust in God required me to fully commit my life to Him. I stopped hanging around the people I used to hang around with, I spent less time with my family, and I threw myself into Bible studies. I did everything I knew I needed to do in order to turn my life around. And it wasn’t long until I asked my mentor to help me get baptized.

After that, Satan struck – hard. I moved back to central Arkansas, leaving my church, to continue with my schooling. However, I had signed up for 19 hours in hopes of graduating early. I was also working part time and toying around with the idea of going on a mission trip. I ended up accepting that task as well, and began weekly training sessions with my group to work towards navigating a foreign country and teaching others about Jesus. When I look back on it, the balance of clubs, mission trip training, school, and work probably kept me from lapsing in my faith. I had a purpose; I had the responsibility of being a light to everyone I came into contact with, and I took it very seriously.

I should have taken my mission trip that seriously. I contribute a lot of the growth I have experienced over that year to it, and a lot of it was unforeseen. I thought that I was going to go into another country, proclaiming a Gospel that would change someone else’s life. However, I had to fly 13 to 15 hours to realize how vain I was. How I wasn’t very good at handling my money. How despite what I may think, people actually do look up to me, and because of that, it’s all the more important that I persevere and live my life for the Lord. How wrong I was for thinking it had been my hard work that had gotten me out of the country in the first place.

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Coming back to the States, I was hit with culture shock and had a new understanding on who I was as a person. It’s okay that my laugh is loud and that I can walk into a room and talk to a complete stranger. It’s okay that I strayed and was an atheist for three years before I found God. It’s okay that my faith is a motivator, and the focus, of a lot of the things I do. Being me, for God, is okay.

I want you to know, reader, that I still don’t have it right. Everything that I’ve learned about finances, treating others how I want to be treated, raising my children, and being a woman of God didn’t come until after I got baptized – and I’m still falling and fumbling two years after baptism!

The point I want to drive home with this blog post, and with my conversion story is this – I don’t care who you are. You’re redeemable in God’s eyes.

 

Tune in next week as I talk about my current state of affairs and my future.

My Conversion Story – Part 2

Conversion StoryPart 2

A few Sundays ago, someone at church gave me the idea to share my conversion story on my blog. “It’s not something I, or anyone else that’s grown up in the church, can relate to,” he said. 

Knowing I can reach others and relate to others because of what I have gone through, I decided it was time to look a little more closely at how God worked through me and others at that time in my life. Because of His love, redemption and power, I am no longer a slave to sin, but walk in newness of life. 

To God be the glory.

 

“May the Word of God always remain a ‘lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path’”

The summer before I started my sophomore year of college wracked me to my core.

***

I had finished my freshman year of college with new friends, positions in a couple clubs and a job. I remember being stuck in the limbo of welcoming summer, but impatiently waiting to return to the new life I was nurturing in central Arkansas. My impatience grew as my home life became more tumultuous.

That being said, I am going to gloss over the arguments that erupted between me and my family for two reasons. First – I gave as good as I got. I could match (and sometimes surpass) them in terms of volume and passion, and was equally as backbiting and vicious. Second – they have not consented to my writing of the events that took place that summer, and out of respect for them, I’m not going to touch on them. All you have to know is that at the time of the events listed below, I had moved out of my parent’s house and was living with friends, a month before I was due to return to Tech.

My focus is on the key events that pointed me towards conversion.

Event #1

When I graduated high school, my English teacher (I mentioned her in Part 1 – she was the one who would check up on me) gave me two books. The first was “Hamlet”, my favorite Shakespeare play. The second was “A Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel. When she found the book, she said she thought of me; Lee Strobel is a journalist who converted to Christianity after years of atheism. His wife, a few years into their marriage, converted first. Strobel initially set out to prove that her newfound religion was a sham, but after interviewing experts at the tops of their fields over different Biblical “arguments”, he found he was the one who was wrong and converted to Christianity soon after.

Event #2

I don’t think I felt any sort of kinship to Strobel, nor did I want to actively pursue Christianity over any other organized religion. My heart had simply softened  – I went into my studies with the mindset “if I change, I change. And if I don’t, I don’t.” I was willing to listen to all a Christian had to say. I had forgiven those who had previously scorned and dismissed me for my unpopular beliefs, and was trusting one who had never steered me wrong.

“Case for Christ”, though, was a horrible read. Remember, I didn’t grow up in the church. So Galilee, Christ, the apostles – none of it made sense to me. I didn’t know what the crucifixion argument was, why creation was such a big deal, or who Jesus even was! Two nights in a row I tried to read the book, but nothing was getting through to me. I texted my teacher and relayed my struggles to her, and she agreed to meet up with me and study God’s Word.

Event(s) #3

Her home, a stall at a Sonic drive through, the church building itself. We spent hours after I got off work pouring over who God was and the purpose He has for our lives. In the beginning, though, we had to establish there was a God. Our first few studies were over Strobel’s book  “Case for a Creator”, which establishes solid evidence for the creation theory. No God, no Buddah, just good ole’ creation. Geologists, archeologists, physicists, and so many more were interviewed, by Strobel, about the creation theory. By the third chapter, I had buried notions like evolution and the “big bang theory” – Strobel’s interviews had shown me how wrong I was.

Admitting that to my teacher, though, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I looked at the floor board of her Subaru and said, “my mind was blown.” All my life, I had been living a lie. At that moment, I had no idea what was right and what was wrong – I just knew that what I believed was a lie.

So ever the journalist, I had to search for the truth. At work, I would ask my coworkers about their own beliefs and if they had heard of any of the material I was reading about in Strobel’s book. At night, I would read through as many chapters as I could and answer the questions at the end of each chapter, diligently making sure I had a response to each. I searched related materials, scouring Amazon for the cheapest, used copy I could afford. Eventually, my thirst for knowledge and understanding turned into a love for the One who had not abandoned me, abused me, or belittled me. God turned into a welcoming father, waiting for His prodigal son to return home after leaving the house for the wrong reasons. He became real.

And the more real He became, the more diligent I became in following His commands for my life. I set to work to stop cussing, study more, and shift my attention to devoting my life to God. I took what He said in the Bible seriously – and shouldn’t we all? There was one person, though, I simply couldn’t wait to share my newfound joy with – the man I assumed would be my future husband.

At the end of the day, usually after a scheduled Bible study, my boyfriend and I would get to talk on the phone. I had told him about my studies and about the shift I was experiencing; he had nonchalantly commented about it and changed the topic. One particular night, though, he asked me what I had done that day. I launched into the connections I had found and the joy I was experiencing reading about God and how He worked through the Bible. I must have sounded like a madwoman; all I remember was talking at what felt like 90 miles a minute, trying to tell him everything I read about that day.
I was cut off and dismissed – the conversation ended in tears. He called the next day, but we were unable to resolve the relationship; two years and a future together vanished faster than I could have said, “Why won’t you listen to me?”

The next day, after I quite literally dragged myself out of bed, I took a few drags on a cigarette. The friends I was living with at the time were concerned; I couldn’t stop crying and wondering what I had done to be rejected by the man I loved. Another friend, though, wouldn’t take my sob story as an excuse to stop living.

I remember it like it was yesterday. Cigarette in hand I was leaning against the side of the car, talking about my break up with my roommate. She pulled in like she was always late and hated herself for it.

“Sierra…what are you doing?”

To take my mind off of the break up, world view change, and anxiety, we agreed to take a break from the world and let loose. With an overnight bag in tow, we went back to her parents’ house for cupcakes and yoga. She was restless, though, and didn’t make it through a 20 minute practice. I, on the other hand, took advantage of the moment of stillness I was experiencing. When I entered the house, it felt like the world as I knew it was falling down around me. In that moment, I had a nagging feeling that I needed to rely on God, who was now very real, and let go of my pride, passion, and independence.

It was there, in child’s pose, that I let God have my failed relationship and wrongdoings. It was there I felt a weight lift off of my shoulders, but a new weight take its place. My cross. My burden to bear as a child of Christ. I knew I needed to get baptized, now I just needed to come to terms with it. But was it worth it? A failed relationship and a broken home life? Was I going to be able to make it on my own with classes just a month or so away?

What was I going to do?

 

For the rest of my conversion story, tune in next week for Part 3, where I will talk about my first year as a babe in Christ.

My Conversion Story – Part 1

My Conversion Story (1)

Last Sunday at church, someone gave me the idea to share my conversion story on my blog. “It’s not something I, or anyone else that’s grown up in the church, can relate to,” he said. 

Knowing I can reach others and relate to others because of what I have gone through, I decided it was time to look a little more closely at how God worked through me and others at that time in my life. Because of His love, redemption and power, I am no longer a slave to sin, but walk in newness of life. 

To God be the glory.

Before the beginning

My family and I relocated to Bible Belt, Arkansas when I was 6 years old. We originally hailed from Florida; my brother and I were both born there and my parents met and married there. We then moved to Oklahoma, where we welcomed my sister, and then to Arkansas. It was there, with a newborn and two school-aged children in tow, my parents established a home for us kids.

Every year we had Christmas, birthday parties and Easter baskets. We had food on our plates, clothes on our backs, and love for each other; nothing seemed to be missing.

Within that home, though, there wasn’t room for God. Mom was raised a Catholic, sure, but the cross necklace she kept in her jewelry box and the (same) prayer we heard every year at Thanksgiving  felt more like expectation and paying dues than an actual relationship with our Lord and Creator.

Sorry – I’m getting ahead of myself.

My childhood was normal. I went to school, made good grades, had sleepovers. As I got taller, though, my fuse got shorter – I was a fire cracker and would leave a path of destruction wherever I went. Friends would equate me to a tornado. Others would avoid me entirely.

I began cussing when I was in sixth grade. As long as it was with music lyrics, I had decided my language was okay. Then I dismissed a fellow classmate. Then I rode the bus every day with high school students, who taught me more foul language than I ever needed to know. Eventually, I was the senior student in the back of the bus telling younger students to quiet down, in the not-so-nicest of terms.

While I was a senior, the little kids on the bus weren’t the only things bothering me; I was about to graduate high school and still didn’t have enough financial aid to go college (out of state); my boyfriend (of two years) and I were struggling to make a plan that included both of us in each of our lives; my home life was souring – quickly. I had a lot working against me when I left my home for a public university two hours away, but I savored the freedom that came with being on my own.

Getting Called while in college

I didn’t “lose it” my first semester of college, as the stereotype usually goes. In fact, I think I made all As; I was still trying to get a feel for campus and the people that were living in the dorms with me, so I spent a lot of time in my room doing homework. My free time was spent watching movies or trying to establish relationships with others.

I soon took advantage of getting involved on campus; I started writing for the campus newspaper and joined Society of Professional Journalists, a club that went to fancy, out-of-state conferences and hosted guest speakers to talk about the biz (usiness). But soon, my class load, friends, and involvement left little time for homework or talking to the boyfriend, whom I declared to my mother I would marry. He got busy too; he had enlisted into the military straight out of high school.

I don’t remember ever feeling like I had my life together. I was trying to make it on my own, because no one else was going to help me pay for college.

In the midst of all this, my home life had continued to deteriorate. Calls from (and to) home became fewer and farther between. I was on my own and had no one checking up on me, except for a teacher from high school, whom I had grown to respect and admire.

As a mom to two precious children, a full-time teacher, and a wife to a husband who fancied rock music to her acapella, I found her reaching out to me touching. She was busier than I was, and she still made time to answer my questions and check up on me? What?

She wasn’t out to get my heart, though – she was gunning for my soul.

“May the Word of God always remain a ‘lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path’”

The summer before I started my sophomore year of high school wracked me to my core.

 

For the rest of my conversion story, tune in next week for Part 2, where I go into depth about my conversion itself, and the steps leading up to my conversion.

Battle against Booty Shorts

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Shopping for pants has always been an issue for me because of my body type. I can’t deny the fact I’m a curvy woman; however, my body type isn’t the stereotypical “curvy and lean.” Needless to say, shopping for clothes, of almost any kind, is not something I look forward to.

Flashback to a few weeks ago: I had finally built up the courage to go looking for shorts.

Prior to my conversion to Christianity, I was a booty shorts kind of girl. I had no problem flaunting what I had and turning some heads. Now adays, I blush thinking about the kind of woman I was and do what I can to be modest. So for this shopping excursion, I decided it was out with the booty shorts and in with the Bermudas. I became enraged when I found my options were limited.

I first walked into a young adults’ consignment shop because I thought saving an extra dollar was a good idea. I perused the racks, bypassing dresses labeled “short” and skirts that were practically see-through. I began to wonder where the more modest clothing was and had to return to the front of the store to go through the racks again. I did find some floor-length skirts – on a measly two feet of rack.

As I approached a wall of short shorts, I quickly dismissed them and continued my search for an appropriate length short. Not even 10 feet past the shorts, I hit racks and racks of jeans.

I became confused. The store seemed to determine my options were short shorts or jeans. It felt like I could go to the right and embrace society’s idea of fashion (show too much skin and reveal too much of my sexuality), or I should go to the left and deny society’s standard, in the process also denying myself my own comfort and femininity. I found myself bearing my cross of modesty and self-respect in between the bedazzled skinny jeans and clearance winter wear.

I wish I could say it got better when I went on to the next store. But it was there I realized how marketing was beginning to play into the message “showing skin is sexy”; jeans with hand-sized stickers claimed these jeans were for the woman with the specific body type. The fade in the middle of the leg and hole in the pants pocket was supposed to do something for the petite woman who didn’t stand above five feet four inches. The low rise, longer leg was for the curvier woman who had problems finding pants to fit her curves. Seeing these bold claims on stickers meant to attract women my age made me break down inside.

This is what the young women of today are seeing. Our curves are not only accepted, they’re promoted. The more skin you show, the better. Modesty is for older women. The temperature outside justifies less clothing. These are lies, and I refuse to settle for the false sense of beauty our society is trying to impress upon men and women of today.

When I think about what is valued in our society, it’s all singular and exterior. A lean, muscular motivator that isn’t afraid to be the lone wolf leading the pack. We haven’t necessarily embraced the idea material wealth and Grecian, god-like perfection are what everyone needs to strive for, but we haven’t squashed it, either.

The same can be said for the other side of the coin; those who are different are accepted, usually as put up martyrs or those who bore the brunt of rejection and scorn for those who followed in their footsteps. Innovators, underdogs, you name it – stark contrast to what we accept as “the norm” will usually be applauded. It seems like there’s no middle ground.

It’s times like these that I find solace in my faith.

Whether or not you believe it, the Creator of our universe has created a global standard for all things work, play and love. In the Old Testament, God even outlined who ate what and when, because His people were so misguided and anxious to return to the world.

My point is I am not bound by society’s standards, nor am I even called to heed them. When Jesus prayed for his disciples, he prayed that God would “keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world,” (John 17:15-16). Therefore, the false advertisements and unrealistic expectations don’t apply to me, and they don’t apply to you either.

As children of God, we are called to be different. Christ knew the standards God set and the teachings he expected to spread wouldn’t be popular ideas; in Luke 12 he teaches of division, in some cases between people as close as father and son (Luke 12:49-53). But instead of joining the ranks of the few who are regarded as martyrs for unpopular causes, Christ built on to an eternal kingdom. When you deny the world, you are saying yes to the cause that has not only stood the test of time, but survived (and thrived under) persecution, hatred, and evil. When you deny the world, you are denying fighting for the individual and pick up your cross to fight for the kingdom of God.

Don’t be mistaken; this war isn’t going to be won with screaming matches and global evangelism. It starts small, like looking forward to the future and pledging to live your life according to God’s standard. Then you make the decision to daily deny yourself, and this world, and live for God. For me, that begins with denying society’s definition of beauty, and declaring a battle against booty shorts.

Steadfast, from my shoulders to my knees.

Steadfast, from my shoulders to my knees

One of my legs is shorter than the other.

How cool is that? A medical mystery that was causing me sharp back pain and numbness was actually a misalignment in my hips that took 21 years to find. However, once I sought the help I needed and began a rigorous physical therapy process, my pain began to subside. Today, I can’t do much without the heel lift that gives me the extra 7 centimeters I need to live pain free, but I’m pain free.

I’m not going to lie to you; there are days when all I want to do is walk around barefooted, sans any closed toe shoe keeping my heel lift in place. The spongy, black material has become a bit of a road block between the Arkansas rocky soil and crab grass beneath my feet. But I know that if I go without my heel lift I’m going to suffer the consequences and be laid up in bed, unable to sleep because my back is stiff and numb.

I also consider all the work I’ve put into my own body trying to eliminate the pain; on average, I have been to a chiropractor every week this year since January. I sit up straighter to avoid cinched muscles that would put pressure on my spine, in turn affecting the nerves responsible for my pain. I also try to do yoga every day to keep my muscles warm and moving around my spine. I have spent a lot of time trying to keep the pain away and I’ve had to make a couple lifestyle choices that support that change. You could say I’ve been steadfast in this battle against back pain.

The same dedication applies to my faith.

As a child of God, Satan is constantly throwing road blocks at me in hopes I’ll stumble in my walk with God. And they can come in any form – a bad day, a non-Christian friend that’s causing me to stumble, finals time (hah). Matthew 4 describes Jesus getting tempted by Satan and specifically details Satan using Scripture to communicate to Jesus. Our enemy can quote God’s word – that’s a scary thought to me! As a child of God, I have to be diligent in my studies to make sure myself, and others around me, are properly understanding and studying the Word, and practicing it according to His request.

As a woman of God, the devil throws more stumbling blocks; modesty, sexuality, my role as a young, single woman in the church. While I have the power to control how much skin I show and how active I am in the church, I have to be just as alert to those around me. I cast my eyes downward when I see a shirtless runner, because I don’t want to stumble in my walk with God because of someone else’s immodesty. I’m leery of things like gossip or preference and groups within the church because 1 Corinthians 12 reminds us we are “one body.” We need to work together as the hands and feet of Christ’s body in an attempt to further the Kingdom!

As Sierra, I rely on passages like 1 Corinthians 13:13 and root my life on “faith, hope, and love” because I have seen how God has worked in my own life and utilized those principles. I also look to Philippians 4:8, which reminds me to focus on things that are noble, just, pure, lovely, and of good report. Here, I think of God’s word and the faithful people I know make up his church. I think of His promises and the return of His son.

***

            I want my life to be a living testament to our Lord and Savior, and in order to make that happen, I need to model my life to cater to that lifestyle. life free of cursing, immodesty, and darkness, but a life full of love, service, and passion for God and the work I’m responsible for as His hands and feet.

This isn’t to say that this lifestyle is a walk in the park; becoming, and staying, a Christian was one of the hardest things I’ve every had to do. I gave up a secular lifestyle when I converted, but a gained a Savior who is patient and willing to wait for me to figure out my footing. As a grow, I learn more about Him and His will for my life, but I need to make sure my life is going down the right path to make room for His will; I want to be ready for what God has “in store” for me.