Pressing On

10523312_10152576702109859_3780536739924629184_nAn adventure awaited me on a path that was not yet paved. A long dirt path with hills, sharp turns, rocky terrain, and mountains was covered by trees waiting for my first footprints to be made in its surface. I knew that the path was long and that the terrain would constantly be changing along the way.

The stretches of flat dirt path were easy to take on. I knew where I was going and I stepped forward in confidence. In confidence that I could take on the journey and terrain ahead. I had my faith, was happy, and knew that this journey was going to be great. Although everything was going well I knew that there was something that I was looking for, so I continued pressing on.

Then there were stretches of path that were rocky. These parts took some effort to make sure that the ground that I was standing on was stable. I had to balance and I had to focus. Although there were rocks in my path at times, I still pressed on even though there was some resistance. But I knew that there was something that I was looking for, so I pressed on.

As I continued down the road I discovered that I began to climb a mountain. There were times on this mountain that I felt defeated, where I lost the faith and where I felt alone. But I knew that there was something that I was looking for, so I pressed on.

Although I knew something was lost, I did not know what it was. I did not know where to look or which way to turn. But I knew that there was something that I was looking for, so I pressed on.

I can see the end of this dirt path up ahead. This road has taken me to some beautiful places both on the outside and on the inside.

I have spoken up. I have stated what I believe. I have been honest with myself and with others.

I have gained new life perspectives, knowledge, and friendships.

I knew this whole time that there was something that I was looking for, so I continued pressing on. At the end of this dirt path I can see what it was that was lost. That something is now found.

And that something that I found, is me.

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Get out of the Comfortable

When I graduated college in May of 2013, I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. I did know that I did not want to do much related to the degree that I graduated with. Growing up in the same home in the same town and going to college within a short IMG_0558distance from home gave me the itch to go somewhere new and see something different. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. Although I had this itch, and even though I applied for a few AmeriCorps programs in Oregon, North Carolina, and Maryland, I never actually thought that I would go. I did not think that I was strong enough to take on such an adventure. I entertained the thoughts in the back of my head but felt protected in my bubble. In my comfort zone.

I chose to search out the AmeriCorps options as I have always enjoyed the experience of volunteering. My heart has always been for children and having the opportunity to give my time for a year to volunteer at a non-profit organization that supported and encouraged them sounded like a great way to spend a year.

When my summer was coming to a close and I was still at a loss for what my upcoming year would hold, I received a series of phone calls concerning potential positions–  two of which lead me nowhere, while the other call left me surprised as I was almost sure that I never finished filling out the application.

I had 3 days from the phone call to decide whether or not to go to Oregon two weeks later. While re-organizing some boxes from college I discovered the book, If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat by John Ortberg. I had purchased the book after team devotionals at the beginning of my last year in college but never got around to reading it. This was the perfect time to read it. Reading this book was one of those times when you feel that God is speaking directly to you. I recommend it to anyone and everyone. For me, it gave me a HUGE encouraging push to get out of the boat, out of the comfortable.

The only thing that would stop me from leaving home was fear. And it was because of this fear that I ultimately left. I would not let fear steal my dreams. I knew that God had a plan and would not bring me across the country for nothing.

With great struggle comes growth.
When fear is present, your dreams are dead.
While courage is needed to make the choice,
You know deep down where it is that you are called to go.
For when the Lord calls on you, you will know.
You will feel as though you have no choice but to obey,
To listen to the Lord.
It is a feeling.
A feeling that once you have, you know.
For true faith does not always seem clear in your head.
But when God tugs on your heart you will know.
And you will know exactly where it is that you are to be.

When I arrived in Oregon and was reunited with my car that had kindly been driven acrossIMG_0694 the country for me, I found a CD in the CD player that had been forgotten. The CD was The Shelter, by Jars of Clay. I played this CD from Newberg, Oregon to my new home in Roseburg. The CD remained in my player for the next 3 months straight and I listened to it practically every time I got in the car. It soon became what I have termed my Oregon Soundtrack. During my time here, it has given me much encouragement as the words always seem to speak at the right time. As I’ve said before, thank you for forgetting.

Pulling into Roseburg on that first day, I still remember thinking that I was not strong enough to make it through the year. While I knew that I was where I was suppose to be for this time of my life, my mind was still preventing me from fully trusting in God. Pulling into town that first day, these were the words that I heard on the CD. They have stuck with me ever since.

Set us free
Trust the mystery
Until our eyes are clear enough to see you
Where you lead us
We will follow
Where you lead us
We will follow
Open up our hearts and reach inside
Open up our hearts and reach inside (We Will Follow, Jars of Clay)

No journey is easy. Every journey has its ups and downs. It has times of success and times of struggle. It is in those times of struggle and change that you truly find yourself. Those times that you step out of the comfortable and into the unknown. You find out what you believe, what you stand for, and what you are living for.

1470101_10200921604870144_2006303707_nI knew from the start of my journey that I wanted to put this year aside to think about my life and think about the direction in which I wanted to take it and I could not be happier with what all God has shown me or lead me to discover. From the start of my journey I was shown true genuine love as I was taken in by the most loving family when I had nowhere to live. They did not know me; they did not ask questions. It was not an option to them– I did not have a home and they were going to take care of me for however long it took. I was fed, invited to family functions, and I felt like I was apart of the family. I am very grateful for the time that I spent with them and have been blessed by this genuine care and love that they have shown me.

AmeriCorps in Roseburg was the best decision that I could have made for this year. I have finally gotten out of the comfortable. I have learned to speak my mind and express what I believe is true. I have discovered why it is so important to be honest with yourself and to speak how you feel. I have discovered a confidence in the words I speak. I have learned that each person is a product of their environment and past experiences. I have learned that each person has their own story and that each person deserves your undivided attention. I have found peace in frequent journaling and relaxation in alone time. I have discovered a new appreciation for the sun and the light that it brings to the Earth.

I have personally experienced the fullfillness that a card of appreciation or thanks can bring. I have pondered my impact in this town but have been constantly reminded of the impact that this town has made on me. I witnessed how a simple compliment can make a day and how simply showing an interest in someone can turn their day around. I have seen love all around- from many, many hugs and excitement from the sound of your name, to seeing friend’s interactions with fiancés, to a hug from a stranger at church when you find yourself crying tears of confusion and sadness. Most of all I have been reminded that your life and your time on Earth is a precious gift. I have learned that in order to truly live, your body and your mind must be in the same place.

My journey is not yet over. I still have a few months until the end of my journey as an AmeriCorps member in Roseburg, Oregon. The end of this year’s journey will only mark the start of my next journey to come and the next boat for me to step out of.

I have learned this year that I am stronger than I think. 

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”- 2 Corinthians 12:9

Do not let fear steal your dreams.

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May You Have Hope Shining Like The Sun

It was a Friday morning and all I wanted to do was stay in my bed under my warm sheets. I am not a morning person. I would not say that I am grumpy in the morning, I would just rather stay up late than get up early. In addition, things have been more challenging for me here after returning from my Christmas break and my sheets were providing a comfort that I did not want to leave. Unfortunately with my work schedule the only time for a track workout is the morning, so I have been forced to become more of a morning person than I ever thought I would be. So, I laid there in my bed and knew that if I did not make my way to the track on this dark, foggy, Oregon morning that I would regret it for the rest of the day. So, I got out of bed and quickly got ready as I had snoozed one too many times. I made my way to the school where the fog was so thick that I could not see the track.

After warming up, I began my first 600m repeat. I was not too happy with my time and was not encouraged by the thick fog, cold air, and air stagnation alerts that are to continue throughout the weekend. I was determined to improve my time for the next 600m. My next two times were slightly faster. As I began to get slightly frustrated with myself for not running the times that I had run last fall, I reminded myself of the obvious that I am still getting back into training and that I am coming back slowly. Progression is key.

After finishing 600m number three, I knew that I only had time for one more 600m before I had to head to work. Huffing with frozen air stagnation-lungs I made my way back to the start. The moment I put my foot on the start line, the fog began to rise as the sun came out. The immediate feeling that I felt was hope (no, not just for an improved 600 time) and my spirits began to rise. I stepped on the line with this feeling of hope and with a relaxed mind. I hit my watch and began my final 600m as the fog continued to rise and as the sun continued to break through the Oregon sky.

IMG_1122At my first step, a poem was being written in my head. With each step words built upon words from the step before. All I remember from this poem are the words: sun, hope, challenge, family, and friends. That is it. I know that words of encouragement, beautiful words, had been created yet I cannot remember them. I ran with a feeling of hope and happiness as the sun continued to shine through. I have never experienced anything like this before. Ever. I do not know where the words came from. All I know is that they were beautiful, encouraging, and that the experience was surreal. Crossing the finish line after this 600m I do remember the last phrase of the poem, “And you look up to the sun and realize that you really aren’t that far away after all.”

While missing home, there are no other words that I can imagine that would encourage me more. I looked up to the sun and I knew that friends and family back home were looking up to the same sun. I did my workout on this cold January morning and knew that people all over the world were doing their workouts at the same time as I was. I thought about just how small the world really is. There is one sun. One sun that gives light to us all. One sun that shines on the world. We are all connected. A light that shines in the United States, Togo, England, Chile, and Brazil. A light that allows plants to grow and people to see. There is just something about the sun that brightens our days, lifts our spirits, and gives us hope. It is a pick-me-up.

While in distance, I am many, many miles away from the comfortable, I am encouraged by the fact that the sun that shines in Oregon is the same sun that shines in Pennsylvania. And because of this, I feel so much closer to home.

After leaving the track still mesmerized by the experience, the realizations, and the thoughts that were now running through my head, I thought further about that last phrase that I remember as I crossed the finish line, “And you look up to the sun and realize that you really aren’t that far away after all.” My mind started going down a path. A path that had me thinking about how short our lives really are. I was reminded of how important it is to follow the direction that I believe God is calling me in. I do not want to go about trying to do my own thing when my real purpose, God’s plan, is not being fulfilled.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”- Matthew 5:14-16

I am reminded that I need to be a light of hope to others who may be struggling or who need a listening ear.  My devotional for today that I read after returning home from the workout was entitled, “Prescribed by God to Make a Difference”. The Uncommon Key to think about was this: “Is the way you are living your life making a difference in someone else’s? Someone you wouldn’t readily gravitate to? There may be bigger things that Christ calls you to than what seems obvious.

I am reminded that right now it is my time to make a difference and be a light of hope to someone who needs it.

Live it in the Moment

I recently returned to Roseburg, Oregon after my Christmas break to continue my service through AmeriCorps which ends in August 2014. One thing that I have found myself struggling with is the idea of “living in the moment”. A cliche phrase I know, yet something that is quite challenging to actually do. One of my new years resolutions was to attempt to find ways to change daily life to make the idea of “living in the moment” a more obtainable task. Small steps reach a larger goal. So, here are a few things that came to mind when I imagined the life of someone truly living in the moment.

Well, to start with, reducing your connectedness to the world through social media seems like a good place to start. Going on Facebook 10 different times a day and absorbing what everyone else is doing with their life, where they are, and who they are with most certainly does not help you to live your life in the moment. A constant connectedness to the world through social media not only can cause you to want what you do not have, but it eats up your time and takes you out of your attempts to live in the moment and throws you into someone’s life. Most of the time what comes up on our newsfeed isn’t even about those who are close to us anyways. The time that you waste away on Facebook can better be used doing something, anything that is away from the screen. I’m not saying to cut it out all together. Hey, its nice to be up-to-date on what your friends are up to when you don’t see them all that often. But take a few moments to think about how much of your day social media eats up.

Along similar lines as Facebook is the constant connectedness that we have through our phones. I remember being in a bookstore once and I saw a family of four where they were all sitting next to each other playing on their iPhones. Not a word, just fingers tapping and sliding on a screen. Eyes glued. When you are with people, actually be with them. Don’t put on a front that you are actually listening while your head is trying to think about how to respond to that last text message. For a day, leave the phone at home and feel the freedom you have without it. You may be thinking, “Freedom?!…lost is what I would feel.” Another experiment to go along with this one…Leave it at home and count the number of times that you reach for it, think about checking it, or wonder if you have a text message, missed call, or notification. This number in itself should show you just how much your phone can invade your ability to truly live in the moment. Make an effort to see people in person or call them. When you are somewhere, be there. When you want to talk, give them a call. Save your phone games for a long airplane ride and play a board game with the people that are right in front of you.

So, besides the reduction in social media and technology, how else can we live in the moment, appreciate each day and not let life pass us by? Well, for me, a devotional reading in the morning and a few Happy Book entries at the end of the day may do just the trick. As the year 2014 began, I started reading the devotional, Uncommon Life Daily Challenge” by Tony Dungy. Each short page-long devotional for the day ends with an “uncommon key” to think about. One of the uncommon keys is: “God was intentional about your design, your opportunities, and your purpose. Thank Him and look for ways to use what He has given you in the best way possible.” After reading this in the morning, I should not just read it, let it go in one ear and out the other, and think, oh, that was nice. It is something that should be chewed on during the rest of the day. As I go to work, eat lunch, drive home, hang out with friends and before going to bed, I should be thinking about how I can apply what I have read to my life and be on the lookout for how it can give me a new perspective.

I have also been reading the book, “The Noticer” by Andy Andrews. Essentially the book is about an old man named Jones who gives people a different perspective on the lives that they live or the problems in which they find themselves. Jones is all about perspective. One of the stories was about a man and a woman who were going to get a divorce as the woman did not believe that her husband loved her anymore. Jones explained to them that people feel loved in different ways. Which similarly reminded me of the book, “The 5 Love Languages”. The 5 love languages are: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. (Check out the website to find out which love language you speak: http://www.5lovelanguages.com). Jones points out how we often love in the way that we want to be loved and if we don’t know how the other person feels loved, then problems occur. In the story, both the husband and the wife learned the other’s love language, gained a new perspective and they saved their marriage.

Learning something new or seeing something in a new way can forever change how we live our lives.

Now, at the end of the day, make a few entries in your Happy Book. What is a Happy Book you ask? A Happy Book is a book full of things that make you smile, make you happy, or that make you feel blessed. They are a few words jotted down. They are not things from last week, or about something in the future that you are looking forward to, but they are from today. As time goes on and your list continues, you will see how blessed you truly are and what it is that you take out of each and every day.

My last thoughts for living in the moment are to seek out and enjoy all opportunities that may come your way. Say yes often. Seek out ways to be involved in the lives of those around you. Seek the needs and make a difference. Be a part of your community.

Take in and appreciate the beauty in nature that surrounds you. Remember that you will never again have this moment. 

Thank God for each moment of your life.