Braving the Flood

When it rains, it pours.

Familiar with this phrase? Many of us are. We recite it flippantly when a series of not-so-fortunate things falls upon us in a short period of time. Generally, no big deal. We usually laugh it off – dismissive.

Until the day when the rain becomes a flood.

We were sitting in one of those really cute hole-in-the-wall restaurants in London. One of those places where the warm light, and even warmer people filled with laughter and spirits, spilled out onto the nearly deserted cobblestone street. It was an Italian restaurant and I was in heaven because the owners were actually Italian – I was eavesdropping, hoping to catch pieces of conversations in the beautiful language I wish I had more opportunities to speak, enjoying delicious prosciutto e melone and various pastas, laughing with my family.

In an instant, the world changed.

You hear about it in movies, the main character on the other side of the world when they learn that a dear, loved one has passed. You imagine the shock and pain they feel. You hurt for them. But you have no idea.

Until you’re sitting in a restaurant in London, watching your parents through the window as they receive this news hovering on the sidewalk, asking the waiter to give you the check asap and wrap up all the food to go. Being snippy because no other cultures seem to understand “hurry” like Americans, and you love that about them, but not now. Not while the world doesn’t even seem to be a real place.

You all walk back to the hotel in a tear-stained daze, stopping for none of the lobby pleasantries. All you want is to get back to your room, which isn’t even your room because you are a 10-hour plane ride from that room, and cry.

And you cry. You all cry.

You cry until your body cuts you off from exhaustion. And then you lay in bed wishing you were anywhere but there. Thinking surely you will wake up and none of this will have happened. You deny your new reality as you lay awake, like some cruel joke your body plays after telling you you’re too exhausted to keep crying.


An event that seemed only possible in movies – the sudden, shocking loss of my Papa – will forever be June 9 for me.

On it’s own, this would have been difficult enough. But as we know – when it rains, it pours.

See, my wonderful Granny, a woman I admired and shared so much of my life and faith with, lost her battle with Parkinson’s on May 9, exactly one month earlier. Throw in an onslaught of busyness and stress at work, tension within personal relationships, the resurrection of a battle with anxiety and nightmares that I thought I conquered years ago, jury duty (yay democracy, but I seriously think the government handpicks the most inopportune times) and finally, I was broken.

I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t have the “why?!” moment.

You know the one – the, “why are You doing this, God?” moment. The one that we as Christians are ashamed to admit to and feel. We’ve been told it’s wrong to question God.

Well, guess what? I’m calling bull (excuse my French).

You may or may not be familiar with Job from the Bible. He was an incredible, faithful servant of the Lord. You’d think that would earn him some extra protection, right? Wrong. That’s our human wisdom. Remember, no amount of goodness “earns” us a better spot in God’s eyes. We’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

Still, Job was special. He had such a strong relationship with the Lord that God actually allowed Satan to test him.

I know what you’re thinking. I had to stop and think about that for a minute, too. Why on earth would God “reward” Job’s faithfulness by letting Satan loose on his life?! Seems like, well… not an incentive to be faithful. But again – that’s our human thought process. It’s not about us. It’s all about God’s glory. And God knew (He’s omniscient after all) that Job would remain faithful to Him, no matter what, helping Him to write a story that we are still drawing strength from today.

Long story short, Satan took it all. Job’s land, wealth, health, family…any and every earthly possession or happiness that God had blessed him with. Through it all, Job never turned his back on the Lord. He didn’t blame Him. He didn’t curse Him. Not even when his closest family members and friends told him to do so.

You think, ok, that’s all fine and good, and Job is inspirational (if not somewhat unbelievable) and an example of a perfect reaction to pain… but that’s not relatable.

Well, you would be wrong.

Job may not have denounced the Lord, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have a breakdown along the way. In fact, Job straight up asks God, “Why?!”

I like to picture him down on his knees in his room with his eyes lifted toward the ceiling, tears streaming down his face, his whole body feeling weak and shaky, his fingers straining from the palms of his hands, fighting them from turning into fists as he cries out with the energy left in the deepest parts of his soul:

I loathe my own life; I will give full vent to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God, ‘Do not condemn me; Let me know why You contend with me.’  ~Job 10:1-2

It’s moments like these where it can be easy – assumed, even – to start asking the “what?” question: “What have I done wrong to deserve this horrible stuff happening to me?”

Once again, we can owe this self-pity and blame to the foolishness of our humanity. We may operate in a tit-for-tat mode, but God does not. It’s easy to start thinking there must be some reason, some justification for our misfortune. It’s true, some tough situations and pain are in fact the consequence of poor choices, disobedience, and plain ol’ sin. But other times, trials are the result of God working to redeem the dark world we live in, and we are the story He uses to bring light into an otherwise hopeless picture.

People are going to try to convince you that it’s your fault. Job’s friends did. Don’t believe them. Instead, hold fast to the faithfulness you know to be true of God. He may be growing you, and nobody ever accused growing pains of being delightful. Hold onto the promises of God – be strong and courageous and don’t be afraid; for the Lord is with you  and He will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6 – and Papa’s favorite verse)

Here’s the thing about Job: He didn’t wallow in his darkness.

He questioned God, no doubt. Pretty much the entirety of Job chapter 10 is his own personal meltdown. But he didn’t stay there. He didn’t allow his pain to consume him. He turned back to the Lord. He continued to trust in His goodness, mercy, and sovereignty. He laid his head on his pillow at night making the choice to believe that the Lord’s mercies truly would be new in the morning (Lamentations 3:23) and he kept walking. He stumbled, sure. But he never stopped walking with the Lord. Which, by the way, God knew from before Job was even a thought in his parents’ minds. If that alone doesn’t give you a sense of calm, I really don’t know what will.


So now you’re thinking, ok, Alyssa, good for you, you’ve got this all figured out, you won’t continue suffering with loss because you have this faith in God’s goodness.

False.

I wish that were true. But let me be transparent: I am struggling.

You’re right. I do believe in God’s goodness, mercy, and sovereignty. I do believe that someday, some way he will redeem my pain and that glory will be brought to Him and healing to me for the suffering of the last 2 months.

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t questioned. That doesn’t mean I haven’t struggled harder than I have in a long time to not let my anxiety consume me. I have experienced sadness that has made me wonder – is this what depression feels like? I have laid in bed until the last possible minute in the morning pleading with God to give me the strength to get through the workday. Even now, I am saddened just thinking about the fact that Papa will never read this post – he was so supportive of me and my dreams of writing.

I pray that the rain has stopped, that the floodwaters will start to recede. I know some day it will come again, but for now, I hope for recovery. I trust that the Lord knows what I need, even though I tend to argue that I know better. I pray that the next time God asks me to step out into the downpour sans umbrella, I will have the faith to look back on these days of loss and point not to my own strength, but my reliance on His. Because I’ll fall. You know it, I know it, we all know it. But He never will.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come, behold the works of the LORD,
how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. ~Psalm 46

Sweetly,

Alyssa Leigh

 

 

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Calm in the Chaos

God is not a God of chaos, but of peace.

Do you ever feel like you are completely unequipped to walk down the path in front of you?

Do you ever feel like God is about five steps in front of you and you can still see Him there ahead of you, you can make out His shadowy existence, but you can’t quite tell which exact path He took to get to the spot He wants you to follow Him to?

 God is not a God of chaos, but of peace.

Those words keep running through my mind.

Every time in my life that I have come to a point for decision or fork in the road, these are the words my mom has lovingly spoken to me. Except they didn’t seem so loving at the time. See, all I wanted was for her to tell me what to do, tell me the right answer, tell me that if I took a certain path it would be the one that would lead to the most happiness and contentment. I mean, isn’t that what moms are for?!

I thank God for my mom.

I thank God that instead of choosing to tell me what to do based on her own imperfect, though certainly well-intentioned, wisdom, she pointed me to Scripture. She pointed me to the Lord. She taught me that I have just as much access to my Savior as she does (even though I still maintain that she has a direct dial prayer line to God, which I make requests for on a daily basis haha) if only I will choose to seek Him.

God is not a God of chaos, but of peace.

Over the last month, I have become certain of only one thing:

I have no idea what 2017 is going to bring.

Even as I write those words, my breath catches in my throat, warm tears well up in my eyes.

Why, God?

Can’t I have a year of certainty yet? Can’t you please stop asking me to step out on faith? Isn’t time for me to get to settle down like I’m watching so many of my closest friends get to do?

2016 ended in a whirl wind of life changes and travel and joy and then it was like January 1, 2017 clicked reset- back to square one. And can I be honest with you? I’m really struggling with that. I’m really struggling with starting a new year and looking at the 11 months ahead and feeling a sense of excitement and purpose. And for someone who is incredibly goal oriented and a semi-crazy (ok fine, full crazy) planner who worked hard in 2016 to learn to embrace change but is still falling short – that is less than ideal. It’s draining actually.

God is not a God of chaos, but of peace.

What does that even mean to me? Sometimes, it pops into my mind and – full disclosure – makes me a little agitated. If those words are true, then why do I feel lost in my own story?

As I reflect on this and how it applies to my life, I begin to realize that even in the chaos, there is peace. My world may feel like it is spinning around me at dizzying speed, clarity about my future slipping from my grasp at every twist and turn, yet in the midst of it there is an indescribable calm. It is peace. It is a quietness in my soul that cannot be put into words. Sometimes it forces my mind to shut off when I start to run away with my emotions. It is the stillness inside me that refocuses my desires to align with God’s daily plans for my life instead of my own aspirations for achievement.

The thing is, I have to choose to acknowledge that peace – His peace.

Right now, I have so many areas of uncertainty in my life that I am praying over it’s not even funny. No really, it’s not funny – control freak, remember? But God is working in that, too. Even as I write this I think of how God has graciously challenged me over the last year and as a result I am stronger and more resilient.

I have no idea what 2017 is going to bring.

Deep breath.

I have no idea what 2017 is going to bring.

I have hopes. I have fears. But when I listen to that quiet voice of peace, it whispers love.

This year, I want to love others with everything I have. My heart physically aches when I think of all the people around me and around the world who are hurting – after all, there is so much hurt in our world. I want to love others with a love that can’t be from my own goodness (because it’s flawed and selfish, believe me) but only points to a perfect Father from whom I receive undeserved love.

I want to be unwavering in my commitment to Christ and His love for the world. As Jim Elliot prayed,

Father, make of me a crisis man. Bring those I contact to decision. Let me not be a milepost on a single road; make me a fork, that men must turn one way or another on facing Christ in me.

I want to abandon fear and doubt. I want to stop living shackled to my lack of trust in His perfection. He hears me when I call to Him. He only asks me to be willing to follow His lead. Which is a big ask, admittedly – but not if I truly believe that He is a good, loving Father.

I want to be brave. I want to be confident in the decisions I make because I have grounded my faith in prayer, quiet, time spent in Scripture, journaling, and the wise counsel of others who are seeking Him with even more consistency and passion than I am.

God is not a God of chaos, but of peace.

When my mom said these words to me growing up, I just wanted to scream. That’s not helpful, Mom!

But my mom loves me. She loves me too much to deprive me of the pain of crying out to God to save you in a way only He can, and the joy of experiencing His faithfulness first hand.

Sweetly,

Alyssa Leigh

Me-mas

This Christmas season has felt particularly taxing. And ya know what’s extra frustrating about that? I even got all of my Christmas shopping done before December 1! 

I promised myself that I would do everything in my power to make this the most enjoyable holiday – and yet.

What’s that old saying, something about if you have the time, the time will fill?

Well, I don’t know if that’s officially a saying, but it should be. And I have a feeling you know what I mean. Somehow, despite my best efforts of planning for this holiday to be stress free, the stress has found me. 

Shopping. Family. Friends. Travel. Events. Work. Commitments. Hopes. Expectations. Life.

Somewhere in the midst of it all – and let me assure you, none of these things on their own are bad – I got lost. Somewhere along the way, the purpose shifted. Suddenly, it wasn’t about caring about these things because they are fulfilling and honor Christmas through sharing and giving and fellowship. Suddenly, it was about me.

And the second it became about me was also the second that it became stress.

I wonder why?

Maybe because last time I checked, the holiday isn’t called Alyssa-mas. It’s Christ-mas. 

Hold on, hear me out. I know the whole “keep Christ in Christ-mas” has become a little trite. But when you really think about the meaning, and not just the cliche, how can we not acknowledge it? How can we not pause?

Isaiah 9:6 tells us about Christ’s birth (the true reason we celebrate Christmas btw), “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Do you ever read those descriptive words of Christ and just feel a calm wash over you? How humbling it is to think that someone who can justly claim all of those incredible titles also cares about little old selfish me. Not only cares, but left the perfection and glory of His rightful place at the right hand of God to deal with all of us down here on earth and then die a tortuous death on a cross for me. Even though He did nothing to deserve it and a majority of the time I take His sacrifice for granted. 

Christmas – Christ’s birth – set into motion God’s perfect action plan for rescuing all of creation from the darkness that prevails here on earth. And I still find a way to make it about me.

But it’s not too late. Thank God, that it is never too late for Him. 

Christmas is still a few days away and I plan to strive for peace, not perfection. I plan to give everything I can of myself to others, rather than expecting others to give to me. I plan to focus on my Savior, not my circumstances. 

It’s hard y’all. This letter is not my challenge to you, not my holier than thou aspirations – it’s my reminder that there is no fulfillment in myself. There is no joy. And there may be unmet expectations and there may be disappointment along the way. But if I let Christmas pass by without regaining focus on the purpose – honoring and praising our King – I will lose much more than my time, relationships, and material possessions. 

Christ entered our home that first Christmas to redeem us and fill us with enduring Hope, I pray that we let Him. 

Sweetly,

Alyssa Leigh

Unconditional

I’ve had a lot on my mind this week. 297 precious little children to be exact.

With ‘Sponsor-A-Child Program Coordinator’ falling into my job description, I think of them on a regular basis for work purposes. But over time, it has become more than a job description.

Over the last year, I have spent countless hours reading their names and “About Me” sheets, receiving progress reports on their academics, and watching them grow through their updated photos. I listen to them via video sincerely thanking the families in the United States who pay $45/month to sponsor them, providing an opportunity for them to receive an incredible education, uniforms, meals, and a place to be loved.

And all of this is good.

But then I think of the time I have spent with them over the past two summers face-to-face. And I’m reminded that these children are so much more than attendance rates, and national exam scores, and favorite activities. They are individually distinctive personalities, and heart-breaking troubles, and tremendous stories of strength, and joyfully uninhibited laughter, and beautifully unique souls.


  

And when I think about them, it’s impossible for me to think about myself. And let me tell you, I find quite a bit of time to think about myself. But thinking about myself always leads me back to the same place – lost. Alone. Purposeless. Self-sufficiently insufficient. Anxious.

Last summer, I met the children I had been reading about for the first time. Their spirits were sweet, but many of them had only just begun attending our private academy, so their English was weak. We broke down the language barrier through smiles, which grew to hand motions, which grew to hugs, which grew to laughter. Cameras and iPhones served as constant entertainment as the children were endlessly fascinated to see their beautiful faces on little screens. I was reminded that kids are kids – no matter where you are in the world! By the end of my trip, I missed them before I even walked through the school gate and waved goodbye, uncertain of when or if I would ever see them again.

12 months later I was on a plane to see them again, and I just couldn’t wait to get there. But I was nervous, too. After all, what if it wasn’t the same?

As I stepped off the bus onto the school campus, I looked out into the sea of warm faces that I knew so well. Suddenly, I caught the beaming smiles of a group of pre-teen girls walking toward me.

“Alyssa!”

They called out my name and I froze. They remembered.

See, I had spent the year since I met these children working on their sponsorships, reading all about them, seeing their pictures, and matching their names. I remembered them. But they had not seen me, or even talked to me, for an entire year! And they didn’t just recognize my face – they remembered my name.


Have you ever stopped to think about how important your name is to you? How valued you feel when you are called by it?

As I stood there, suddenly overwhelmed by the love from these children and my eyes starting to fill with warm tears, I couldn’t help but think, this is how God loves us. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since we came to Him, it doesn’t matter how long we spent with Him in the past, it doesn’t matter how many other faces He’s seen – He remembers us by name.

Since returning home a few weeks ago, my heart has been especially burdened for one of the girls who called me by name that first day, Rebecca.

Most would consider Rebecca a leader at the school, especially among the girls. She is incredibly sharp and has the kind of personality that others tend to follow. She quickly informed me that she had been practicing her English and intended to spend the next several days asking me questions. I admired her ambition! (I was excited as I began to realize that all of the kids’ English had improved over the last year and the language barrier really only applied to more complex topics and humor!)

Rebecca started with the small stuff – asking simple questions about what I spent my time doing in America. After some time – aka about 20 minutes – we moved to more serious topics such as, “Do you like Justin Bieber and will you sing one of his songs for me?!” Haha!

The next day, her questions became more personal. I started noticing that Rebecca was seeking guidance – not so different from my pre-teen self years ago. She asked if I was married and I told her no. Her eyebrows went up a little. She asked how old I was and I told her 24. Her eyebrows shot up. I smiled (and laughed to myself silently) because I knew that this pretty much meant I was an old maid in her culture (and sometimes it feels that way in American Christian culture, too!).

I continued on to explain to her that I had gone to school because education is important, and was now working, using the skills God gave me to provide for myself and help others because working hard is important, and that I hoped that someday God would bring the right man across my path and we would get married and start a family – but until then I was going to keep doing what I’m doing! She thought about this for a minute, and then without looking up from her lunch said, “I don’t want to get married young, either.”

The words sunk in slowly. I thought about how much time I’ve spent since my junior year of college worrying about why God hadn’t brought me a husband yet. Didn’t I deserve a “ring by spring”?! And even after I was okay with missing that boat, I still wanted Him to hurry up and bring the right guy along. Oh, and I wanted it to happen exactly as I had planned. Because I know best.

How much of that time did spend being thankful that I wasn’t being forced to get married? How much of that time did I spend being thankful that I was getting to receive an incredible education with so many opportunities for a successful future at basically no cost to me? I can tell you how much: Zero. Nada. None.

And here I was, sitting across the table from a little girl half my age sharing rice, avocado, and pineapple slices, who was worried that she wouldn’t get to fulfill her dreams because her “role” in society was worlds apart from mine.

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The next day, Rebecca boldly asked me what I thought about people of a particular, different faith. At first, I was taken aback! I mean, I don’t typically ask people straight up, “Hey, what do you think about {insert faith here}?”

I shared with her that God made each of us in His image (Genesis 1:27) and loves us unconditionally (Romans 5:8) and so we are called to love others unconditionally, too, (1 John 4:7) but that the Bible teaches that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). I told her that as a Christian, it was important to me to share the Hope that I have found in Christ with others because it has changed my life!

She nodded. She said little. And then we played.

The next day, (are you seeing a pattern?) Rebecca told me that she lives in a home where Christianity is not acceptable. According to her father, she is attending a Christian school because it is the best education in the area, but she is strictly forbidden from believing in our God, much less converting.

“Alyssa,” she whispered,  “I think that the God I am learning about here in school is real. I don’t believe in the god that my father tells me we must believe in. But he has told me he will disown me if I believe in your God and I am scared to lose my family.”

As Rebecca told me this under the shade of a lone tree in the recess yard, I didn’t even know what to say. I loved her so much, my heart broke for her as I thought of how little I could relate to the truly life-altering burdens of this pre-teen girl. Never once have I feared for my well-being like she was so clearly worried about now. It all came together as I realized that she had been building up to this question for days – possibly before I even arrived.

Later that day, several of the kids were huddled up around me and we were just playing, soaking up some of our final moments together before I headed back to the States. Rebecca sat by me, always with a hand on some part of me, just like many of the kids did. And I was humbled, understanding for the first time what it really means when we are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus.


  

 

We are called to love. Unconditionally. We are called to serve. Without expectation of return. We are called to care. Genuinely and deeply. And we are called to pray. Without ceasing.

I can’t stop thinking about those 297 sweet, innocent ones. Especially Rebecca. I pray for her daily that God would work a miracle in her life – whether that’s through changing her father’s heart, or protecting her from any backlash for her belief in the Lord, or something else entirely!

I may not be a mother yet, but when I tell my own mom how I can’t describe the love I feel for each of them – a love that hurts because I care so deeply about every single story – she tells me that how it feels to love your child.

It’s unconditional. And it’s how the Lord loves you and me.

Sweetly,

Alyssa Leigh

Tired of Trusting

Today, my little sister asked me why I haven’t written in a while.

I paused. Truth is, it’s a defense mechanism. But I don’t want to tell my little sister that, the girl who is not so little anymore, who is wise beyond her years (or mine), who looks up to me and encourages me to live more fearlessly.

Writing makes me face things. We all have that outlet – the thing we do that forces us to be honest with ourselves. I think it’s an incredible thing… when it’s challenging anyone but me.

I’m tired. I won’t bore you with the details – it’s all the usual suspects: personal stress. work stress. family stress. social stress. stress. life.

Do you ever go through times where you feel like it’s all hitting you at once? Like, it almost becomes humorous! You’re like – wait, can all of these things seriously be happening in sync?

The problem is, the longer I’m tired, the more I start searching for a reason, which eventually manifests itself as a lack of trust in God. See, I start to think – where is He?

And that’s hard to admit via public blog post because I don’t know who will read it and what they will think of me when they do. Some will be surprised. Some will judge. But hopefully, some will relate. One person will feel like they aren’t the only one who is struggling to keep trusting.

Let me make this clear: I firmly believe that struggling with trust is ok. I do not think that it is a reflection of your walk with the Lord, much less your salvation. There are plenty of instances in the Bible where great people of faith found themselves doubting that God was really on their side. But how they handled that moment made all the difference.

My favorite example has to be this:

Matthew 14:22-33

22 Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. 23 After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone.

24 Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. 25 About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!”

27 But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!”

28 Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”

29 “Yes, come,” Jesus said.

So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.

31 Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”

32 When they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. 33 Then the disciples worshiped him. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed.

**Let me just put this out there so no one is misled – I am not a Bible scholar and I do not have a seminary degree, nor any “official” training to analyze scripture. However, I do believe that one of the greatest things about our faith is that scripture is His Living Word and He uses it to teach all of us, no matter our education level.**

Right before this happened, the disciples had witnessed the feeding of 5,000 people (likely more than 20,000 in reality because women and children were not included in this count). And this wasn’t just any old miracle. Back up a little more and we find out that immediately prior to this event, Jesus found out that John the Baptist – his cousin and arguably most devoted follower – had been brutally murdered. Even with that loss weighing on him, Matthew 14:14 says that Jesus “saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them.” I don’t know about you, but compassion probably wouldn’t have been high on my list of ways to approach 1000s of people I didn’t know who had found me. Nevertheless, He goes on to turn 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish into a feast – all the while unfazed by the doubt of the disciples.

So the disciples are on a mountain top to top all mountain tops in my opinion. I mean, stop for a second and just imagine if you had witnessed that entire experience unfold! Armed with that kind of amazement, Jesus sends the disciples back onto their boat – without Him (vs. 22-23).

Pause.

Do you think the disciples felt confident in Christ in that moment? I mean the guy had just performed incredible miracles despite great personal pain. They were full of trust when Jesus sent them out in the boat alone, and He knew the storm was coming.

I think it’s really interesting that the Bible states that the disciples feared that Jesus was a ghost when they saw him in the storm (vs. 26). Then, he calms them by confirming His presence – “Do not be afraid. Take courage. I am here!” (vs. 27)  I personally believe that in that particular moment in time, Jesus was physically there. But it makes me think about how I can relate to this today and I cannot ignore the reminder of God’s ever-presence in my life despite the lack of physical support. Sometimes He seems “ghost-like” because I can’t have a face-to-face chat with Him, but I still find calm in His presence through reading, praying, and writing.

Upon hearing Jesus’ words, Peter is instantly emboldened. Does anyone else feel like this was a quick turnaround? Does anyone else feel like that is totally relatable? It’s like – phew, ok Jesus, I was scared for a second but I wanted to believe you were still there for me, but j.k. I totally trust you so… thanks for that quick reassurance!

Peter takes it a step further, literally, and hops out of the boat into the storm. I think if you’ve spent any time in church or reading the Bible, it’s incredibly easy to breeze through verse 29 as if Peter stepped out of his car into the parking lot. Um, no. Last time I checked, even with all the technology we have today we still can’t walk on water. I’m pretty positive that was even more so the case here, too. The trust that Peter had in Jesus in that moment was at a level I can’t quite comprehend – and yet…

See, I love Peter. And I love that God chose Peter to be such a huge part of Jesus’ ministry, because a lot of times, Peter is just like me.

Peter’s trust is off the charts, Jesus is standing right in front of Him, he just witnessed this incredible miracle – and he still looks around and has an “oh, crap.” moment! Brave Peter is overcome by the circumstances around him even though He ultimately does trust the Lord.

But.

What is Peter’s response to this fear?

“Save me, Lord!” (vs. 30)

I think of how many times I’m in exactly the place where Peter was. I’m trusting, I step into the storm, I’m confident in God, and then that one wave coming toward me is just a little to big… and I sink. And I’m flailing. And I’m trying to keep my head above water using pretty much any flotation device I can find: friends, family, my own intelligence, self control, pride, sheer will… but I never cry out, save me, Lord.

Again, I think it’s so interesting, and so purposeful, that God specifically says that Jesus “immediately reached out” when Peter called for Him (vs. 31).

Jesus didn’t make him sweat. He didn’t try to teach Peter a lesson so that He could smugly say I told you so. Peter reached, Jesus rescued. End of story.

I’d be willing to bet that in the moment, Peter was wondering how he was ever going to get himself out of this mess. Back up- why he ever thought he could handle this mess to begin with. I bet he was tired. It had been an emotional time leading up to this moment, it was in the middle of the night (vs. 25), he was just human. He realized he couldn’t save himself, but I’d be surprised if he didn’t wish in some small part of his heart that he could. Still, in the midst of all that struggle, all that weakness – physically, mentally, emotionally – he actively chose to trust Jesus.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I feel like I need a Peter miracle. I need God to just reach out and rescue me because I can’t save myself from the stresses that are crashing all around me. But I need to be reminded that the absence of calm in my life is in part due to my lack of asking and my lack of trusting that God can make His power perfect in my weakness.

For one reason or another, this song has crossed my path over and over this past week – at church, on the radio, listening to Spotify Discover (basically the highlight of my Mondays, duh). And I am struck by how relevant it is to this whole post…

“Do not be afraid. Take courage. I am here!”

Know that you are loved and prayed for and not alone.

Sweetly,

Alyssa Leigh 

Am I Doing College Wrong?

I’m going to go out on a limb here – this may be the most unasked question of all people in college and recently graduated.

What do you mean by most unasked, you wonder? I mean that everyone’s thinking it, but nobody actually wants to admit it. How do you know this, you scoff? Because I have 2 solid post-grad years to prove it – and shockingly, that’s more than enough.

See, it wasn’t until very recently that I started to uncover this truth. 2 years out of college, you are finally starting (that’s important to note: starting) to feel comfortable in who you are becoming as an adult. So you start to venture a little. You think, maybe it’s okay to bring up things about college without seeming like I can’t let go of the past.

I started this journey by asking a few of my very best friends – aka the ones I was pretty sure wouldn’t judge me – one simple question: Was college really all that you expected it to be?

At first, the answers were surface – Yeah! Best 4 years of my life!

I kid you not: even as those words were coming out of their mouths their facial expressions were changing. Because it wasn’t. But it was supposed to be.

At least, that’s what we had been told. And that’s what everyone else was saying. So… I can’t be the only one who kinda thought it – for lack of a better term – totally sucked at times. Can I ?

And that’s where the sting sets in. Choose your variety, but it goes something like this:

  • I wasted my college experience.
  • I cared about the wrong things.
  • I didn’t have as much fun as I could have.
  • I didn’t accomplish as much as I should have.
  • I didn’t meet my husband/wife.
  • I didn’t make those lifelong friends.
  • It wasn’t the best 4 years of my life & I’m the only one who feels that way.

Here’s what I’m willing to bet: The majority of us would say there were some really great times over the course of our college career. Memories made that will last a lifetime. But “best 4 years of my life?” Maybe not.

Hold on, wait, don’t stop reading. I promise this is not as depressing as you’re thinking it is. Because here’s the thing. I’ve really thought about this a lot, and I think that this is okay. Actually, I think this a really good thing. And here’s why:

Struggle = Growth

At the end of the day, the main point of going to college is to become a self-sufficient adult. And that simply doesn’t come without challenges.

Did you study hard for a test and still get a lower grade than you needed/wanted? That was growth.

Did you skip studying for a test or completing an assignment because you were confident you could wing it and were rudely awakened? That was growth.

Did you stay out at a party that really wasn’t a great scene and felt uncomfortable? That was growth.

Did you instantly click with group of friends who just as instantly became strangers at some point and you were left feeling totally alone? That was growth.

Did you date a guy/girl who irritated the heck out of you and you had to hurt them by breaking up? That was growth.

Did you date a guy/girl who you thought was the one and they broke your heart? That was growth.

Did you pass up an opportunity to get ahead in your career through a project/internship/etc. because you were – bottom line – lazy or felt inadequate? That was growth.

Did you go into an internship/project/etc. thinking you were hot stuff and then they were all too happy to take you down a notch? That was growth.

G-R-O-W-T-H. The list goes on. I think you get it.

But here’s the point I’ve come to realize: The things that made it hard are the things that made it the best. If you never struggled in college, then first of all, you’re probably a lying liar (sorry, somebody had to say it). But second of all, you probably didn’t learn everything you could have to adequately prepare you for the next step aka Adulting. The problem is not the struggle, the problem is our perception of “best.”

So how do we change that? Well, for those of us who are post-grad, we can’t go back and tell our 18-year old selves how to do it better. Believe me, if we could I would be there. But I can try to impart my sage wisdom on those of you who are still in the trenches. So here goes:

Social Media is Not Real Life

This is not a new revelation. Countless people have written about it. We say it all the time. But we don’t actually let the words coming out of our mouths sink in. It’s unbelievable! And I am just as guilty as you, but please hear me: Your best friend (or your worst enemy) does not have a perfect life just because they Instagram like it’s their job. I know it’s hard to believe when you feel like you’re inundated with “perfection” on your little screen, but please try to reality check: When people see your insta would they think you have it all together? Probably so. Do you feel like you have it all together? Probably not. Case in point.

Focus on the Best

The true best. The things that are important: investing in your education, investing in other people’s lives, and investing your well-being (spiritually, physically, emotionally, and mentally). If you are striving toward these things, your struggle is not in vain, I promise. I truly believe that no investment is wasted, even when it feels like it is. And the more you focus on these things, the less that the superficial things will seem to carry so much weight.

Stop Caving to “Busy”

There will never be another time when you have so much control of your time. Ok, maybe not never, but I can gosh darn guarantee you that it won’t be in the first few years past graduation! Right now, you’re struggling to finish all your homework, go to all your meetings, and hit the gym because that band party tonight is a non-negotiable. I know. I was there. But my friends and I joke now about how sometimes we feel like we don’t have time to shower, let alone stay awake past 10pm. Work will take up 8+ hours of your day. It will be so fulfilling, but it will be equally tiring, so sleep will take up another 6-8 hours of your day. Laundry and groceries become a necessary evil when you can’t wear t-shirts and shorts every day and rely on the school to feed you. Bottom line: appreciate your busyness, because it is likely a busyness that you are in control of and enjoying. Don’t let “I’m too busy” be an excuse to skip out on something that would be really great. The luxury will be gone before you know it.

Set Your Own Standards

And stick to them. Chances are, you know what you like. You’re 18+ years old and have had enough trial and error experiences to determine what you do and don’t enjoy spending your time on. If you don’t, that’s ok because it’s another opportunity for growth! But if you do, stop letting other people influence that. I’m not saying be a stick in the mud. Be open to understanding other perspectives. But don’t try to be someone you’re not. More importantly, don’t try to be someone you’re not ok with being. You don’t like the bar scene? That’s ok. You love to go out and be social? That’s ok. You’re more of a follower than a leader? That’s ok. You don’t like to drink? That’s ok. You don’t have the same opinions about things as your friends? That’s ok. You don’t want to sleep with your boyfriend/girlfriend until marriage? That’s ok. Your best is a B+? That’s ok. Just own it. Stop letting other people determine your “success” as a college student.

The thing is, you’re not “doing college wrong.” I know it feels that way some days. I vividly remember it feeling that way. I’d be lying if I said that there aren’t still times when I think what did I do wrong? And through talking with several friends, I’ve realized I’m not alone in that feeling.

As cliche as it is, we live and we learn. And if we are seeking the Lord, we rely on His promises to hold us tightly in His grip, guiding us to avoid the landmines. But we won’t miss all of them. And that’s ok. And the sooner that we let that be ok, the sooner we will really start believing those words that are coming out of our mouths.

They were the best 4 years of my life.

Sweetly,

Alyssa Leigh

 

 

Realist vs. Reality

I have always wanted to be an optimist.

Is it just me, or does the world just love optimists? Ya know, the always bubbly, glass-more-than-half-full, the-world-is-your-oyster, [insert cliche here], people? I have always wanted to be a person that people walk away from thinking, “Gosh, I just love being around her!” 

Anyone else?

And yet – when it comes down to it, I’m just too much of a realist to be a full-fledged optimist. Despite my best efforts, I simply can’t let go of that rational side of me. By no means would I consider myself a pessimist (and I hope no one else would either!), but total optimism… For me, it’s always tainted with just a little dose of “reality.”

But recently, I have wrestled with this question:

If I claim to be a follower of Christ, who according to the Word is not bound by any limitation, then at what point is my realism no longer realistic?

Countless times (especially since graduating college) I have been excited, hopeful, or dare I say – optimistic – about a possibility or dream when suddenly it’s shattered by “reality” and promptly deemed unlikely, or worse, altogether unattainable. I’ve comforted myself with the explanation that I am simply being realistic. But am I? Or am I simply limiting the options so as to equally limit the potential for heartbreak?

Here we are at a lack of trust again. Anyone else noticing a pattern?

See, I want to fully believe in God’s faithfulness – that “He who began a good work in [me] will bring it to completion” (Philippians 1:6 ESV). Still, I’m a pro at creating potential road blocks and then convincing myself that God isn’t able “to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20 NLT). Did you see that last part? “Or think.” That’s right – not only is He able to do more than I could ask, but He is able to do more than I could ever even think of asking! And yet, I determine that my realist mindset is much more  of a safe bet than placing my faith and hope fully in the God who promises this type of reality. Seems legit.

Even as I write this I struggle with the lack of cohesiveness of this entry because it is difficult to wrap my mind around this concept. Rather, it is difficult for me to accept that God’s reality is available to be my reality, if only I would just choose to let go of my shoddy reality. I don’t know why. I sit here, re-reading my own sentences, acknowledging that I am dealing with undue stress because I’m holding so tightly to this false idea that if I fully trust Him to work out the details of the areas in my life that feel so hopeless my head may float off my shoulders and into the clouds, never to be salvaged, wasting more precious time.

Because when it comes down to it, that’s the fear: Even if I can trust Him to fulfill my dreams and desires, I’m not so sure He understands that I have a timeline – and so far, it ain’t on schedule. We’ve got some catching up to do, God, so if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to hurry this along…

How arrogant of me! And honestly, it’s a thought process that completely cancels out the ounce of trust I say I’m putting in Him to begin with.

If it’s not already evident, I haven’t fully worked through this one yet. I’m still in the struggling. But I’m seeking. I’m clinging to encouragement. I’ve dug enough to hit the root. I know what needs to change in my heart and I know that despite my vast imperfection, He is patient and pursuing me even when try to run the other way.

Hopefully one day I will be the optimist – the girl who encourages everyone she encounters – but I pray that it will be because people are drawn to my reliance on and hope in Christ. Nothing else.

Until then, if you’re out there feeling even one bit of what I have inadequately attempted to express, please know that you are not the only one, so keep choosing trust.

Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God. ~Corrie ten Boom

Sweetly,

Alyssa Leigh

Hi, Validate Me

What do you do?

Where do you live?

Are you dating anyone?

Since graduating from college & moving on up into the “real world,” I’d be willing to bet that these are the Top 3 Most Frequently Asked Questions I have encountered. Anyone willing to back that up?

Here’s my question:

Why don’t we just ask, “Where do you fall on the scale of success compared to me?”

I mean, that would be a heck of a lot more efficient. And at the root, that’s truly what we’re asking – isn’t it?

If I’m being honest, I’ve grown to dread small talk social situations because of this exact reason. I know that I will be asked these 3 questions by at least 1 person, if not every person I chat with, & my answers just never seem to quite measure up to everyone else’s.

Social gatherings for 20-somethings (even in a church setting) are like a real-life version of Instagram: Everyone is only putting their perfectly put together life on display.

And this makes me sad. Not because I think we should constantly be vulnerable to the whole world, a characteristic we have conveniently coined ‘authentic.’ (In my opinion there is a time, place, & appropriate space to be completely vulnerable with specific people, but that’s for another post…) No, it makes me sad because despite my natural, shy tendencies, I really do enjoy meeting people & understanding what makes them who they are through their stories. I am awestruck by how God made each of us so significantly unique! But recently, this has been overshadowed by this constant feeling of “judgement” – like we are only listening to each other to find things to boost our own confidence with.

Since when do we define our entire identity by our job title, paycheck, address, & relationship status?

Well, I guess in reality a lot of people do. Always have, probably always will.

But where does that get us? Really. And at what point are those things enough? I mean, who is in charge of determining the notches on this scale of success, anyway? If there is no absolute highest point, then how can the value of the scale be determined?

Spoiler: It can’t.

My value & success cannot be determined by any other person. And more importantly, I have to stop whispering to myself that it can.

There are always going to be people who are ‘more’ than me. There are always going to people who want to make sure that I know that they have determined that they are ‘more’ than me. But I’ve got to stop feeling ashamed of my so-called shortcomings in comparison to others. 1) Because it’s not working wonders on my self-esteem, believe it or not.. but 2) And far more importantly, because it’s not honoring the plan God has for me.

I say I’m awestruck by God’s brilliance in creating each of us to be so unique, but then I get frustrated by the lack of similarity to others that I see in my own life. Makes sense, right? HA. The thing is, what I really desire is to be special, not set-apart.

Maybe one day I will be able to be completely confident & content in my identity. I won’t feel the need play up the parts of my life I think are awesome to distract from the parts that I’m insecure about. I hope so- I pray so. But I know I certainly won’t get there if I keep seeking validation by comparison. 

We have to start truly believing that our identity is solely rooted in the only perfect One. Otherwise, we’re just stuck endlessly revising our Top 3 Questions.

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Romans‬ ‭12‬:‭2‬ NLT

Sweetly,

Alyssa Leigh

Striving

If I could sum up my life for the past few months in one word, it would be this: striving.

Constant. Endless. Exhausting. Striving.

And even though I can daily feel it sucking the Life out of me, I can’t let it go. Because I keep telling myself, if I just try a little harder, if I just go after one more opportunity, if I just accomplish one more thing – then I will be content. Then I will be happy with everything.

Who else has wished: If just this one thing would work out, then things would be great. I wouldn’t even mind if ‘y’ didn’t work out, as long as ‘x’ did.

Anyone?

I’m pretty sure I’m leading that scoreboard because as much as I hate to admit it, I do this all the time. I become so fixated on one challenge that I see in my life that it consumes me. Suddenly, every aspect is somehow connected to this one problem. And since this one problem is present, then nothing else in my life is perfect because the part that is connected to the problem isn’t perfect.

Are you confused? You should be. Because how irrational is that?!

The funny thing is, a lot of times, ‘x’ works out. The thing I pleaded and obsessed over and bargained with God about- it works out. And guess what? It’s not ok that ‘y’ didn’t. I know God, I said it would be fine if ‘y’ didn’t work out as long as you just gave me ‘x’ but ya know, I kinda secretly hoped that you would just go ahead and give me ‘y’ too…

See, there’s always going to be just one more thing.

(And let’s not even get into the whole issue of “bargaining” with God- like anything we could “give” Him is a fair trade for His hand in our lives.)

I rationally know that there will never be a time in my life (this side of heaven) that every single thing will be perfect. That’s just an unfortunate fact about living in a fallen world. Yet I continue to strive for perfection. I am blatantly unwilling to soak in God’s peace and contentment in the midst of whatever season I’m in – fantastic, terrible, or otherwise – if it isn’t my version of perfect.

This is a tough post for me to write. Even as I am typing these words in my room on a Friday night, I am struggling. I want to be free from the chains of striving. I want to fully trust that the God who put these dreams in my heart will be faithful to fulfill them. But I’m stuck right now. I’m stuck in this waiting period. I’m stuck in this feeling useless state. I’m stuck in this how the heck is this ever going to work out? moment.

And that’s hard. And admitting this makes me vulnerable. Especially when it seems like everyone around me is succeeding- their careers are taking off, they’re meeting the man of their dreams, they’re conquering the world. And I’m in my bedroom on a Friday night.. haha

But I have a feeling I’m not the only one. And even if I am, do I not trust that God has a plan for this period?

I have to. Even if I don’t fully believe this at the moment, I have to keep telling myself that I trust Him because the more that I choose for trust to be my perspective, the less that fear can be. And at the end of the day, fear is fueling my striving. Fear that my life will fall short of expectations. Fear that I will never feel fulfilled.

The truth is, for as long as I strive for my career and relationships to conquer that fear, I will never defeat it. Only Joy in the Lord can provide the fulfillment I long for daily.

Easier said than done. But if I’m going to strive, better it be toward Him, right?

Sweetly,

Alyssa Leigh

 

 

According to Plan, Please

Confession: I am generally high strung person.

Always have been. Probably always will be. Can anyone relate?

This doesn’t mean that I’m completely horrible to be around (I hope), it just means that I am most comfortable when things are going according to plan- because I love a good plan. I put a significant amount of thought into all my decisions and look at things from every possible aspect, so once it seems like I’ve found the “best” solution, I’d like for it to stay that way, please and thank you.

Life seems to really appreciate this fantastic quality about me and therefore, always cooperates with my plans. HA.

My friends and family would tell you that they have probably spent more time than they would like to admit thinking about how best to break the news of change to me. Yikes.

So many times, usually after getting upset because something went “wrong” or somebody let me down, I have stopped in my tracks & thought:

I’m done with this. I am not going to care anymore. I am going to embrace change – nay! I am going to seek out change – because I don’t like this about myself. Ok, God? Thanks.

Yet, there I am at the next junction of change and I find myself unable to fully be okay with it. As hard as I try, that knot of anxiety is there, reminding me that there is now a definite risk that I will be unhappy with the results of this new, unplanned experience.

I get frustrated with myself – and at times, God – because I think Why can’t I just get this tendency under control?

And there it is – control. Bottom line: control is the root of the entire problem.

See, deep down – like way deep down, where I wouldn’t actually want to admit it – I believe I am more capable than anyone, including God, to successfully plan and control my life. I desire omnipotence and omniscience above all else.

Omnipotence: Being all-powerful

Omniscience: Being all-knowing

I believe that God is a good god and has my best at heart, but there is this little seed of doubt that says Are you sure He is trustworthy? Are you sure that He cares enough about you to do exceedingly abundantly (Eph. 3:20-21)?

I do. But my need for control is a battle I have to make a conscious effort to fight every. single. day.

Now, more than any other time in my life, my need for control is exaggerated- particularly because I feel more out of control than I can ever remember. Why? Because my life doesn’t “look” exactly like I thought it would. The 12… 16… 18… 21 year old mes planned for this 23 year old me to be in a different spot at this moment. But the fact of the matter is I’m not in that pre-“planned” spot. And what’s more: no amount of wishing is going to put me there.

Here’s the truth: God knew I would be in this exact spot.

He knows where I’m going to be next. He knows what’s around the corner. I don’t. He is the omniscient One. And I am better off for it.

Because let’s be honest, we say we want to know what’s down the road, but think of all the times you have known about something that was going to happen in the future. How much anxiety did you let build up leading to the actual event because you knew what was supposed to happen & you didn’t want anything to mess it up?I’d be willing to bet a lot. (Unless you’ve completely figured out this whole peace & contentment thing- in which case, help a sister out!)

I don’t know where God’s taking me. I have dreams. I have hopes. I have places I’d like to see, things I’d like to accomplish, & relationships I’d like to build. And guess what? The potential of any or all of those hopes & dreams not being fulfilled stresses me out.

This post is not a cure for it. I don’t have a solution. I haven’t reached a higher plane of enlightenment. I’m not imparting some great wisdom on you. I can write & I can acknowledge & I can improve, all the while still struggling. 

But even in the struggle, I can still daily choose the joy of the pencil – the ability to keep faithfully writing my story with the Lord – instead of dwelling in the pain of the paper cut – the insecurity I feel as a result of my selfish need for control. And the more I focus on His power, the less I am able to find the significance of mine.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, through prayer and thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And His peace, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 4:6-7