Vital

MustardSeed

When you sit down on a chair, you don’t think twice about whether or not it will keep you upright as it should, you believe gravity will hold you up. When you feel a breeze, you know the wind is blowing. You can’t see it, but you don’t question its existence. That kind of innate instinct and unwavering trust is what faith should look like. I always find it hard to explain the concept of faith because it is something so complex and personal. I’m not one to force my faith on others because I believe it is something intimate that cannot be demanded, but I do believe faith is something worth sharing.

I was baptized at birth and was raised in a Christian family. I grew up attending church on a weekly basis and always involved myself in church activities; I was on praise team, helped out at summer camps, attended bible studies, etc. I didn’t entirely know why i was doing what I was doing or what I really believed in, but I went through the motions because that’s what I knew to be right. As I got older and became more exposed to the world, I became conflicted and questioned where my values really lied and whether my faith was built out of default or because of my genuine belief. I had to separate my participatory faith and my real faith. During high school I had several opportunities to get baptized again as an adult, but I always found myself reluctant. I wanted to recommit my life when I was ready and when I knew what I believed in. 

I have been incredibly blessed to hear some incredible testimonies about how God has completely changed people’s lives; life stories from people who were once gangsters, drug addicts, alcoholics, but turned a 180 once they accepted Christ, praise reports of healing from physical, mental, emotional ailments, testimonies of near-death experiences where God offered a second chance at life. Hearing these testimonies, I’d alway feel humbled and deeply encouraged, but I would always find myself wondering when my “moment” would come; that moment where God becomes so real to me and nothing could hinder my belief. I’d go to every retreat, praise night, service expecting for that revelation to come, and would find myself disappointed. The funny thing was that while I was searching for that “moment”, God was already doing radical things in my life that I was missing out on because my focus was elsewhere. I wasn’t recognizing what he was giving me directly because I was paying too much attention to what he was giving to someone else. But faith isn’t about someone else. It’s not about another person’s life, what struggles they’ve gone through and how they’ve overcome them through their beliefs. Faith is personal. It’s based on what you believe and what you know to be true.

I may not have a crazy story, but that’s okay. God became real in my life in silence and when I was completely alone. It wasn’t a climactic moment where something dramatic happened, it was just a solitary moment where I knew that my life would not and could not be fulfilling without His presence. I knew I could live my life by my own means but I would always come up empty. On April 15, 2013, at the age of 20 years old, I was ready to re-commit. 

My values and beliefs are what drive my life and what keep me grounded. I know there will be times I find myself slipping and depending on worldly things to offer me comfort and satisfaction, but I’ll always come back to the same place. When I’m going through a funk and I don’t know why, I’ll look at where my spiritual life stands and 99% of the time, it is because I have been negligent and withdrawing. When I chose to get baptized, it was a huge “moment” for me, not because something monumental happened, but because the faith I presumably believed in for 20 years finally became real to me.

Everyone is going to have a different story, but it doesn’t make one greater than the other, so there is no need to look at someone else’s faith and wish their story was your own. That’s the beauty of having faith in something. Once you believe in it, no one can take it away. 

Faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains.

When 1 + 1 no longer equals 2

solitude_by_serhatdemiroglu

When your in your 20s, you’re either single, in the butterfly stages of a relationship, or you’ve been in a relationship for quite sometime. The 20s are the years you begin to figure out what kind of person you really want for yourself, and what kind of person you know you aren’t compatible with. With this experimental season comes great excitement, joy, love, but there is also the unavoidable consequence of heartbreak. Every time you lose someone that once meant so much to you, it hurts. It’s inevitable and even when you think it doesn’t affect you, at some point, it will resurface. There is no sugar coating when you experience heartbreak. It doesn’t matter what people say to try to comfort you because, though those encouragements are greatly appreciated and welcomed, they only temporarily relieve wounds that are so deeply cut.

I’ve learned its a little cycle. At first your sad. You reflect on however long you’ve been with that person and you think about all your memories. You think about how good it was and how happy you were, and then you try to pinpoint the moment it went wrong. You start to question why things turned out the way they did, and you begin to blame yourself. You think about the things you lacked, or the areas you fell short, and you start feeling insecure and lose confidence in who you are. You become numb to anything and everything, and you find hardship in facing each day. You may appear fine on the outside, but you’re just desperately trying to keep your broken self together.

Once this sadness passes and you’ve expended so much energy in letting yourself feel the pain, you become increasingly bitter. The tables turn and you start to think about what they did wrong, how they didn’t consider your circumstances, how they were selfish. It then becomes a blame game of it wasn’t me, it was actually you. You feel a kind of refreshed satisfaction in this bitter state because, for a moment, you throw off the burden of the breakup by just believing it wasn’t your fault. It’s easier to suppress hurt when you camouflage it with resentment and anger, but the effectiveness of this mechanism is only momentary.

What comes after these few stages? When you come to the realization of how vulnerable you actually are, and how much hurt your hiding behind, how do you cope? When your mind doesn’t allow you to let go, how do you force yourself to move forward? You live in a daze searching aimlessly for something to fill the void you’re feeling, not knowing how to come face to face with the situation at hand. You refuse to let yourself feel the emotions that you need to feel to move forward because part of you honestly doesn’t want to. You want to hold on because it’s what makes sense to you. You keep thinking if I let go, everything I believed in and trusted just perishes. But sometimes, the best thing you can do is to let go. For the other person and for yourself. Sometimes, holding on only prevents you from developing and bettering yourself and keeps you from really finding the person that was designed for you. You engage so much of your time into holding onto something that no longer exists. You may have fallen in love, but it’s just as easy to fall out of it. Just because you let go doesn’t mean you never loved them, or that the time was wasted. It just means the time you had was to edify you and prepare you for something and someone more perfect for you.

It’s never going to be easy, so don’t try to force yourself to think that it is. Let yourself feel whatever you need to feel, but don’t grow bitter to the point even the best memories together turn sour.

Building Blocks

legos

When my older brother and I were younger, LEGOs were our thing. We would build fortresses, create tracks for our race cars, play with our little LEGO men; it was truly the most entertaining thing for us in our childhood. I always wondered why my mom never bought me barbies or kitchen sets, but whatever. I had fun and I’m all about gender neutrality for the kids. I digress.

Something I recently reflected on was how my brother and I would spend endless hours building these amazing constructions, only to break them down moments after. We would put in so much effort creating what our little minds were envisioning, but once we did, we’d tear it down to start over without hesitation or reluctance. I look back on that now and think, what a freaking waste of time; if I were to spend hours of my time investing into something, and someone else destroyed it let alone I destroyed it, I would be fuming. But I thought about it a little more and realized that having the ability to be torn down and embracing the persistence to be built back up is the beauty of living life as it presents itself. I’ve often been told to have a child-like faith and a child-like heart, and, ironically, as I get older, it becomes more of a pressing need for me. Children are simple-minded. If something dramatic or unwanted happens, its a few moments of sobbing and wailing before its just another thing of the past. They don’t think it’s the end of the world if plan A turns to the plan B, and they know how to fearlessly let go.

I’m someone who works fervently towards something and expects their to be a result. If I’m giving 110%, I expect the outcome to be a reflection of that, but the cold reality is that that’s not always going to be the case. Whether it be in the goals I set for myself, the relationships I build, the work I do, there will always be the potential that something is faulty causing what I have built for so long to come crumbling down. Instead of wallowing in self-pity and becoming bitter and resentful, I can use those moments of vulnerability to start over and build again. We may blame our shortcomings and think we failed, but sometimes its not our fault. Sometimes its just the way life goes. We are our own worst critic, and if anything, we are the ones who keep ourselves in muddled waters.

Starting over and having to build from scratch may seem absolutely dismal. The time and effort invested into whatever was damaged may seem like such a waste, but when you look at the glass half full, it could be the best thing that could have ever happened. If we never experience pain and we never want to lose things that could potentially be harmful just out of the convenience and comfort of holding on, we can never really experience joy. We could be missing out on something incredible, and we wouldn’t even know it. Next time you feel your world falling apart, embrace it. Take life for what it is and don’t be discouraged. Challenge yourself to build again. Whatever struggle you face in any particular moment is a gem in disguise. Make it count.

Selfish Youth

929119_283530828485883_1157510219_a

Fear is something that lives in all of us whether we like to admit it or not. It is something that has definitely hindered me from pursuing ambitious goals, from letting people into my life, and from fully embracing who I am and what I value. Allowing fear to linger and not making a conscious effort to conquer it has inflicted a lot of regret and brokenness in my life. This past weekend, I felt like I hit a wall. Not physically (though I would not be surprised if that were the case), but mentally and emotionally. I realized that fear was constantly creeping into every aspect of my life and preventing me from believing in my potential. It wasn’t just about my potential to achieve my goals, or the potential for great relationships to develop, but more about the potential to just do more in my everyday. There is so much I want to explore and experience, but I never actually do it. I’ve lived in LA my whole life minus the four years I was in NY, but the vicinities I’ve ventured are so limited. My weekdays consist of working full-time, and my weekends have consistently been the same, doing the same activities. Don’t get me wrong, I have had a lot of fun, but I can’t help thinking is this what every week will look like? Is this just going to be an on-going cycle? Am I okay with that? This is when I hit that “wall”. I am not okay with that. I don’t want to be okay with a routine and a cycle that just seems easy and comfortable. I want to venture out and not let the fear of missing out or the fear of being alone keep me from going forward and being my own person.

People I look up to and have experienced more years of life than I have always tell me, “Your 20’s are the years to be selfish.” The word selfish has never been one that sits with me well. I always felt it was a fault in character, and the worst insult. However, these individuals I call my role models put it in a different perspective. They remind me how these are my glory years and how I must appreciate and live in my youth. I always took that piece of advice with a grain of salt, but lately it is resonating with me more and more. Turning 22 doesn’t make me feel any older or any wiser. It is that insignificant year similar to the years between 18-21 where nothing is that exciting or monumental. It isn’t an age where you can buy your first lottery ticket, or an age where you can purchase your first alcoholic beverage. It’s what I like to call a “floating year”. I didn’t have a lot of anticipation or expectations for my 22nd year of life, but I realized that was the worst way i could look at it. 22 does not change anything for me in terms of the law or in society, but it is a new year that has the potential to be full of incredible experiences and fruitful growth. It is my choice to allow that to happen.

People tend to go through a quarter-life crisis when they turn 25, and, knowing me, I’m sure I will experience it just the same, but I felt like I went through my personal life crisis in turning 22. I know, I know. *Roll your eyes* You’re ONLY 22! No, I am not old. I understand that I am still VERY young. However, I also feel like each year will continue to fly by quicker, and that my youth will be over in the blink of an eye. I am becoming more wary of wasted time, living idly and for the satisfaction of other people. I don’t want to look back when I turn 25, 28, 30, etc. and think that my years were not fulfilling. I truly believe my 20’s are for ME. Though that may sound self-centered and haughty, I don’t mean it that way at all. I’ve let fear rule over several aspects of my life, for years of my life. It has torn me down and made me push many people away. It has made me question who I am and who I want to be. The person I was at 18 is completely different from who I am now, and who I am now will be completely different from who I will be another 4 years from now. I don’t want fear to be an obstacle interfering with me becoming the best person I can be. This year, I make it a personal goal to destroy those fears and to focus on my personal growth. These are the years where I can explore life and find my passions. I can build confidence and let go of many of my insecurities. I thought that the college years were the years I would really find myself, but I’m realizing that this is just the beginning.. Adventure awaits!

Taking Steps is Easy, Standing Still is Hard

This week marks a month since I graduated, settled back in Los Angeles,  and started working full-time. I can’t believe how quickly time has passed; It still feels like it was yesterday when I was standing with my peers decked out in violet at Yankee Stadium saying farewell to the glory days of undergrad. Everything was such a blur. I got on a flight to California the morning after I graduated with no concrete plans, not even knowing if I would make it past security with how much luggage I was trying to pass through as a “carry on” #hoarderproblems. I didn’t even have time to just settle in the fact that I would be leaving New York with no plans to return (at least for a while). I genuinely thought I wouldn’t care to leave the city. I thought I would be completely content with living the rest of my life in Los Angeles. I would never have to squish my little self in a subway during rush hour, crave legit Mexican street tacos, and, above all, I’d never have to experience another brutal single digit winter. It was silly to think that I would be able to easily let go of a place that had become such a significant part of my life. The past month has been full of nostalgia and the overwhelming desire to have just one more year in New York. I have been missing the life I created there, the church I call home, and the amazing people who so powerfully influenced me and encouraged my growth.  I was wallowing in my inability to be present in my current circumstances and to let go.

Coming back to Los Angeles was always the plan. I knew immediately after the first winter I experienced in freshman year that I would ship myself back to the west coast after four years. Moving cross country after establishing a substantial amount of time in one place is difficult, but, in this one month, everything panned out for me. I was able to secure a place within my budget, start a new job I really enjoy, lease my first car, and have my home church start a branch here in LA. Everything I had worried about was taken care of seamlessly. Despite the fact I had no guarantees, I took a leap of faith in coming out here, and everything happened to fall into place. I am fully equipped with all the tools that I would need to live here, but why was I feeling so unsettled, and why was I constantly second guessing my decisions? When I was voicing my reservations and unhappiness to one of my dearest friends, she shared something that resonated with me: “Taking steps is easy, standing still is hard”. It is so concise, simple, and happens to be a quote from the Orange is the New Black, but it was perfectly what I needed to hear. She was right. Making the steps to come out to LA seemed like the difficult part because of how much had to be invested in the move, but that wasn’t the biggest the challenge. The challenge lied in the ability to stand still in the decisions I made, and the path God had paved for me. When I was in New York, I missed LA and was desperate to leave. Now that I am in LA, I miss New York and have the urge to go back. Regardless of where I’m at, there are going to be moments where I feel lost, insecure, unhappy, but I can’t constantly take steps in different directions only because it gets tough. I always thought that keeping myself busy and making changes was what defined a full and productive life. However, that mentality always exhausted me and left me thinking okay, so…now what? Now I’m starting to understand why. God is teaching me the importance of standing still and allowing His plan for this season of my life to develop. The location I settle will not be what determines my growth or what prevents me from thriving. I can make the choice to be still and know that this is just the beginning of something incredible, or I can continue to wander aimlessly searching for a perfect life only to be disappointed. I want to challenge myself to always appreciate what I have in the present moment, and to believe I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.

“Your body is just the ship, your soul is the passenger”.

The Struggle is Part of the Story

have-faith

I still remember the day I committed to NYU. Coming to New York was never part of the plan. I only applied to NYU because I felt like everyone else was. Never did I imagine I would actually end up going. I grew up in the same house, in the smallest city my entire life. I grew up knowing the map of my city like it was the back of my hand, and knowing everyone in my graduating class by name. I grew up sheltered and not knowing the diversity and harsh realities that existed in world. Hell, I didn’t even know how to do laundry till the second month of college when I was running out of clothes to wear, and shamefully had to ask my roommate how to do it. I don’t know what it was that got me to decide on New York, but regardless of my parent’s reluctance, and the debt I was going to sell my soul to, I committed on NYU. It was the best decision I ever made.

I know that there are certain people who are close to me who know my story, but I finally feel comfortable and confident in sharing it to whoever may come by this post. Senior year of high school was a rough time for me. I was always someone who needed to be in control of my life. I wanted to know the exact direction i was headed, and constantly wanted to be able to plan out the next few years of my life. When I was applying for college I had no control over the outcome. Sure, I could do well in school, write killer applications, and try my best on my SATs, but, ultimately, if a school did’t want me, they didn’t want me. That feeling of inadequacy and lack of qualification haunted me. I wanted to be in full control, but slowly I could see that slipping away, and there was no way I could salvage it. What I needed to do was let life run its course, but I just couldn’t handle that. I chose to control the only thing I could control at the time, which was my body. What started out as trying to eat healthy ended up becoming not eating anything at all. Eating three jolly ranchers a day and working out endlessly, I started to see my bones rise to the surface of my skin. I knew this was not normal, but I refused to admit that I had a problem. I was anorexic, but I kept telling myself I wasn’t. I was a Song girl at the time, so when we had performances, I knew people could notice how thin and sickly I looked. I knew that people at school looked at me and were concerned and felt like I needed help, but in my mind, I didn’t. I was just fine. I became afraid to interact with people and would get angry when anyone would ask me if I was okay. I began to shut everyone out of my life. I wanted to get away, and I wanted to be somewhere I didn’t know anyone. New York seemed like the perfect opportunity. I had no idea what I was in for.

I spent the first couple months of my time in New York in serious depression. I knew that if I continued to live my life this way, I would not be able to accomplish everything I came to New York to do, and, more importantly, I could be jeopardizing my life. I didn’t know how to handle the confusion and helplessness I was feeling, so I resorted to alcohol. I never drank in high school or was one to party, but when I realized the ability it had to make me unconscious of my feelings, I kept turning to it. Physically I was healing, but emotionally, spiritually, mentally, I was doing worse than ever.

Early in my junior year, there was a point I knew I hit rock bottom. I no longer knew what or who I was living for, and felt darkness cloud over me. I didn’t have the strength or courage to push through the struggle on my own; I needed an anchor. I went to church one night because I didn’t know what else to do. The message that night was so perfectly aligned with everything that I had been going through. When I thought He was absent in my life and when I thought I was going through these struggles on my own, He never let go of me; He never gave up on me. Even when I turned away from Him and shut Him down in my disbelief, He was embracing me. When I lost confidence and felt inadequate, He still looked at me as His perfect and worthy daughter. It wasn’t a coincidence that I went to church that night, and it wasn’t a coincidence the message was so on point. The Lord was speaking to me, and he was calling me back home.

That night I prayed for the first time in a long time. I asked God to reveal to me His heart for me. If he was really there, I wanted Him to show me some kind of sign. That night I had a dream. I was in a coffee shop in the middle of a long line waiting to order. A man walked in carrying a duffle bag and stopped in the middle of the shop. At one point our eyes met, and I had a sinking feeling in my stomach where I knew something bad was about to happen. As I was feeling this, he pulled out a gun and shot me 4 times, twice in the leg, twice by the neck. After doing so he just walked out, and nobody in the shop did anything about it. It was as if nothing happened. I was on the floor, and all I could think was please don’t let me die. God, please don’t let me die. I’m not ready yet. Please don’t let me die. Next thing I knew, I was at my parents home, and both my parents were frantic. I was saying Call the ambulance. I need to go to the ER. But they were just running back and forth screaming. I ended up walking myself to the ER limping and still praying Please not now, God. When I was with the doctor, she kept looking at me and shaking her head. If I was going to have any kind of chance to live I needed her to do something. I started begging her: Please get these bullets out! PLEASE! Please save me! And she continued to shake her head. When I finally screamed WHY ARE YOU SHAKING YOUR HEAD?! HELP ME! She said It just doesn’t make sense..Every bullet that was shot into you, just barely hit a nerve that was supposed to kill you.. And then she slowly began removing the bullets. As she pulled the last one out, I woke up weeping. I knew that God was giving me a second chance. He was telling me there is no one in the world that is going to be able to save me, not even my parents. He was telling me that everything in the world can pass away, and the things of the world can break our bodily flesh, but our salvation and our life in Him is eternal. I knew why I was so afraid when i thought I was going to die. It was because I wasn’t confident if I died in that moment, I could go to heaven.  I was scared that if I was face to face with Him, He would say I don’t know you. I looked at my life and realized it didn’t reflect God or the purpose that He created me for. He was giving me a second chance to live; not for this world, but for Him. That was the moment I knew that I could no longer live apart from God. I knew that no matter what I had in this world, without God, I’d always come up empty.

The past four years were the most challenging years I experienced, but they were also the most rewarding. I found myself again, and, more importantly, I found my identity in Christ. A month after I had that dream, I made the decision to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. It just no longer made sense to me to want to live my life for myself or for the world because I knew there was something greater. God called His believers to spread the gospel to non believers, and to make His name known. I wanted to pursue that calling. Whether it be in my vocation, in my social circle, in my school, I wanted to know that my life reflected God’s love and His light. It wasn’t a therapist, a friend, a family member who healed me; it was God’s unconditional, unfailing love and grace. When I looked to Him and allowed Him to take control, He changed my life from the inside out. He led me to the most incredible people, and kept showing up in every aspect of my life. I am starting a new chapter of my life, and entering into adulthood. I don’t know what is ahead and what will happen in the next years, but I don’t need to worry and be anxious. Despite what life may throw at me, I know that I’m going to be okay. I can think about the future and become overwhelmed and frantic, but it won’t change the circumstance; it will only allow negativity and discouragement to creep in. The unknown can be a scary thing, but God is already there. He is already there working in those moments. I just need to have faith and keep moving through.

But those who hope in The Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:31