Graduation Part One: Speaking What I Believe

I’ve been horrible at consistency in blogging during the past months. It’s not that I haven’t had blessings—very much the opposite. Time has been limited however, and recording my blessings for others to read fell to a very low priority. But a huge part of what was taking up my time was school, and I’m extremely excited (and blessed) to say that on June 3rd, 2017, I graduated from high school! It was an amazing day and a milestone in my life that had a huge impact on me.

So many things happened on graduation day, and it will require several sessions of sitting down and writing to record all of it. But one of the most important parts of that day was my speech. I had the honor to be valedictorian for my class and honestly, this speech was the most life-changing one I have ever given. For several weeks, I had struggled with what to talk about. Giving a speech at graduation was a huge deal for me. I didn’t want to just get up and say a few words that had no significant meaning and would later be forgotten. I wanted to say something to be remembered. Most of all, my desire was to glorify God. After much prayer and talking it over with my Mom, I finally decided to speak on what I had learned through my twelve years of school: “a sense of belonging, the power of community, the virtue of courage, and the importance of living for more than myself.”

I spoke well that day. I know it was likely the best speech I have ever given. But it wasn’t the applause, or the approval I received, or even the fact that I gave that speech that mattered to me. In the end, what became most significant was the way God used what I said to deepen my faith in Him.

The entire week before graduation, I was sick in bed with an awful head cold. I was miserable. Worst of all, my speech wasn’t completely prepared, and I didn’t have my normal energy and stamina for memorizing. The pressure mounted as the days wore on and I wasn’t close to being ready. My strength, my ability, my passion, didn’t seem to be enough to help me succeed. Then a few days before June 3rd, I was reading over the words I would speak up on that platform, and they hit me between the eyes.

“I now know I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength, and that I can do nothing without Him. It is tempting for me to look at how far I have come, to see all the classes I’ve completed, the awards I’ve earned, and the skills I’ve learned, and say, “Look what I’ve done!” But if I were to speak the truth, I would look back at the past twelve years and say, “Look what He has done.” He has given this entire class the wisdom, knowledge, and perseverance to get this far, and He will continue to bless us if we live for Him. This is what I want this class to be known for: the class that took every part of their lives and let God use what they did for His glory; the class that was God-made, not self-made; and the class that impacted the world, not because of how much they knew or how great they were, but because of Who they lived for. . .Living for God requires us to belong fully to Him, to live in community, serving others, and to live on the edge of our comfort zones, with a courage that comes from trusting not in our own strength and dwelling not on our own weaknesses, but in keeping our hearts and minds fixed fully on God’s strength and love.”

I realized, as I read those words, that that speech wasn’t about me and how well I could do. It was about the lesson God was teaching me through it. What was I saying to all those people?  “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength, and I can do nothing without Him. . .if I spoke the truth, I would say, ‘Look at what He has done.’ He has given us wisdom, knowledge, and perseverance. . .and we can impact the world, not because of what we know or how great we are, but because of Who we live for.”

It was as if the Lord was saying, “Do you really believe this? Are you confident that even when you are weak, and sick, and tired, when you don’t think you can memorize these words or speak to these people—when you don’t feel able, do you believe I can make you strong?”

What could I say to that? “No, Lord, I don’t think that. I’m going to say these word to all those people, and sound like I know them to be true, but deep down inside, I don’t really think You can.” Of course not! Instead, I decided to throw myself on the grace of God and trust not in my ability, but in His strength. I prayed that He would speak through me, and that dozens of people would be impacted, not because of my talent or persuasiveness, but because He would take my words and use them to touch minds and hearts.

Graduation was amazing. It was packed chock-full of blessings. Celebrating with my family and friends afterward filled my heart with joy, and moving that tassel to the left side of my cap brought a wave of happiness so deep that it surprised me! But best of all was the lesson God taught me through the week before graduation, and also on the very day I was speaking, when I was just praying that I could get through my speech without a coughing fit. God blessed me when He taught me that yes, I can do all things through Him. I can’t succeed by myself, but if I am humble and give myself to Him, He will lift me up. He will give me His strength and power. If I speak for Him and truly believe what I say, He will use my words to change me, and to change the world.

Graduation Speech

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The Adventures of the Youngest and Eldest: Florida, Day Three

March 2, 2017

Before I begin, I must explain something. I have always been terrified of roller coasters. They scared me out of my wits. The height; the drops; the speed; just the mere look of them—I didn’t even want to think about getting close one. In vain have my uncle, cousins, and siblings tried to convince me to go on them. The biggest roller coaster I had ever been on before today was a wooden one, and I nearly screamed my head off. It freaked me out, and although everyone told me that metal ones felt different, I didn’t want to try them out. When the Stotts said we could go to Busch Gardens, an amusement park here in Florida, I fully expected to go on one kid’s roller coaster and then just walk around for the rest of the day.

And then. . .I don’t know what got into me. Don’t ask me what happened, or why I suddenly got up the courage that I hadn’t been able to muster for years. All I know is that I rode the third largest roller coaster at Busch Gardens (also the one with the most loops), and a bunch of others, including the fastest one. I still can barely believe it. But the fact remains that I, the person who cringed at the very thought of riding one of those monsters, was yelling with excitement and riding with my eyes wide open at the end of the day. Believe me or doubt me as you will. It happened. I came to the park, I saw those roller coasters, and I conquered them. Completely.

 

Three favorite parts of the day:

  • Riding Kumba: This was one of the biggest roller coasters in the park. It was also the second one I went on. We all rode on Grover, which was the small kid’s ride, and then I decided to upgrade. I wasn’t thinking at all, or even feeling scared. It was kind of like I couldn’t even process was I was doing. But the numbness helped immensely, and gave me a courage I don’t think I could have obtained otherwise. I went with Josh, Nathan, and the Stott’s friend Alyssa. When the ride started and we turned the corner, I looked up and right in front of me, rising way up into the sky, was the track. “I am not doing this. Why did I do this? I cannot believe I’m doing this!” I said. Up we started, and my anxiety mounted with every foot we rose. We got to the top, I grabbed Alyssa’s hand, and down we went. I screamed the whole way, and kept my eyes closed almost the entire time. I could feel the blood pooling in my feet and the unnatural feeling of being upside-down, and heard the wind screaming past my ears. When the ride ended, I stepped out on slightly shaky legs, while Alyssa remarked that I almost broke her hand and everyone patted me on the back. When Josh asked if I liked it, I said, “I don’t know if I could say I liked it, but it wasn’t that bad.” I ended up going on Kumba twice more. Josh, Nathan and I went while the rest were going on a water-raft ride, and that time I managed to keep my eyes open for more of it. I discovered that when the loops came, by the time that I registered that I was upside-down, I would be right-side-up again. When I got off, I was ready to go all over again (at hearing this, Josh said, “Really?”) and so for the very last ride of the day, Aaron, Nathan, Sarah Joy, Josh, and I all went. This time my screams were from excitement and exhilaration, not fear. I absolutely loved it, and I knew I would never think about roller-coasters in quite the same way again.
  • Watching Sarah Joy go on rides: This was Sarah Joy’s first time ever on roller coasters. I wasn’t sure how she would like them. Well, she turned out to be a roller coaster fanatic. I was a little shocked! She went crazy over those rides, and had so much fun! It was great just getting to watch her become so excited and have such a good time.
  • ATVing: When we got back to the house, after dinner Josh took all of us for ATV rides. It was getting cool out, and I became surprisingly cold. I think part of it was that my body went into shock after riding all those roller coasters. I donned my comfy, pink-camo sweatshirt before I went out. With the gentle wind in my face, the cool air, my exhaustion, and the fact that Josh was going really slowly because of the kids riding bikes, I honestly could have fallen asleep on that ATV. I never imagined ATVing could be so relaxing.

One challenging part of the day:

  • Deciding whether or not I was really going to go on the roller coasters. A few people (Nathan especially) tried to convince me to brave it and just go ride them, and a few others, at the same time, assured me that I didn’t have to if I didn’t want to. Torn between my desire to go and my already-existing fear, the opinions of the rest, as helpful as they were trying to be, only heightened the conflict inside. In the end, I decided to go on most of the rides, and I’m glad I did.

Four Blessings:

  • Overcoming fear: This is by far one of the best feelings I have ever had. Every time I step outside of my comfort zone and decide to place my trust in the Lord and believe that I can do all things through Him, (though it may be as small a thing as riding a roller coaster) I obtain a freedom that is amazing. Having struggled with fear so many times in my life, this was just another opportunity to overcome it, and I’m so grateful I took the chance.
  • Sugar Plum Spice Tea: Needless to say, my throat was hoarse and sore by the time we got back to the house. I hadn’t screamed so much in years. Some Plum Spice tea with a little sugar worked wonders and gently soothed my poor, overworked vocal chords.
  • Music: Aaron played guitar and Abby played piano in the evening when we came home. Listening to all the Stotts play music is one my of favorite things to do at their house. When Josh breaks into spontaneous song, it’s even better.
  • Salsa Chicken: We didn’t eat much all day, just snacked now and then at the amusement park, so a delicious dinner of salsa chicken and rice was extremely welcome when we got home! A little cheddar cheese on top made it perfect.

 

Well, there is day three! There was so much to tell, and I only grazed the surface of what happened. The rest will just be stored in my mind and heart as memories for years to come!

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Emma and I at Busch Gardens! 

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We all sat together on a bench while Mrs. Stott got our tickets. 

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We got drenched on the Congo River Rapids! It took almost all the rest of our time at Busch Gardens for my clothes to fully dry, but it was worth it. That ride was fun! 

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Whenever anyone didn’t want to wear their hat, they would give it to Aaron. He knows how to wear multiple hats at once – and do it with style. 😉 

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Sarah got a frozen strawberry bar as a snack. I stole a bite or two. It was very sweet and refreshing. 

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Abby and I on the skyride! 

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Sarah Joy, Alyssa, Hannah, and Emma walking together. This is one of my favorite pictures. 

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Josh and Josiah, trying on hats. 

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This flower smelled like honey-suckle, and it was stunning. God’s Creation is so beautifully and thoughtfully made!

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And this, folks, this is Kumba. It is the roller coaster I conquered and loved; definitely my favorite one in the park. This was from the view of the skyride, and the best shot I could get. If I had trusted myself not to drop my iPod, I might have taken a video of the ride while I was one it, but I’m not to that level of expertise in roller coaster riding yet. 😀 

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Plum Spice tea. 

The Adventures of the Youngest and Eldest: Florida Day Two

March 1, 2017

Three favorite parts of the day:

  • Staying up and talking: Sarah and I stayed up way too late, discussing everything that has happened since I last came here. There had been too much to discuss on the phone or over Skype, so when we finally sat down in person, the words flowed from us and didn’t cease for several hours.
  • Getting cold drinks at Wawa. The Stotts are Wawa fanatics, and on the way to the beach, we stopped to get coffee and slushies. I had an cold chai drink—it was icy and sweet and very refreshing.
  • Singing in the car on the way home from the beach: We were listening to a Christian radio, and one of the first songs that came on was Higher by Unspoken. “Oh! Rebecca and I love singing this song!” I said. We all rocked out to it, and I think we did very well. The next song was It’s Not Over Yet by For King and Country, then Priceless, by the same band. They were all the songs I sing with Rebecca at home, and they made me think of her and wish she was there to sing them with me.

One challenging part of the day:

  • We went to the beach, and when I came home and Sarah went to work, I sat down to do some school. After about a half hour, I didn’t feel very well and had to rest for a little while until my body settled itself again.

Three Blessings:

  1. Florida Sunshine at the beach! We went to the beach for a few hours in the morning, and it was immensely relaxing to just rest and read in the sun. The water wasn’t too cold, and I waded with Sarah while the little kids splashed around like fish and Hannah pretended to be a shark coming after us. Sarah Joy, Hannah, Emma, and Josiah caught crabs and fish and scoured the bottom of the sea for other critters.
  2. I didn’t get burned! However, Sarah Joy did. I had to put vinegar and water on her arms that night to stop the burning.
  3. Extra sleep in the morning. I woke up early, at about 6:30, and couldn’t get back to sleep. I went out into the living room and said good morning to Josh, who was about to leave for work, Nathan, who had just woken up, and Mr. Stott, who had just come home from the night shift. After about a half hour, I went back to bed and rested for another hour or so. I greatly appreciated the energy that extra rest provided.

Day two is over! I can’t wait for day three, and hope you have enjoyed our adventures so far!

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Cold, refreshing drinks. I love you all the way to Wawa, Sarah! 😉 

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Studying and reading at the beach. 

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We had a lunch of sandwiches, brownies, pretzels and apples. 

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In the Florida sunshine! 

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Climbing at the playground. 

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Sarah Joy found a beautiful shell. 

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Riding in the car together. 

The Adventures of the Youngest and Eldest: Florida, Day One

Today started the adventures of the youngest and the eldest girls in our family. Sarah Joy and I are off to our trip in Florida to visit our wonderful friends, the Stotts. I hope you enjoy our chronicle, and have fun keeping up with us on our first adventure together.

February 28, 2017

Two favorite parts of the day:

  • Watching Sarah Joy experience flying on a plane for the first time! She got so excited seeing our plane when it arrived, watching the airport workers with our baggage, and taking off. The lift-off was her favorite part. Thankfully, her ears didn’t hurt at all, although she chewed gum furiously just in case. When all the Stotts questioned her to see if she had any tummy flutters or weird feelings, she just shrugged and said “No.” It didn’t affect her at all, but she still had fun!
  • Finally, finally getting to Florida! I was so glad to get on solid ground again. During the plane ride I had been really tired, and I was very thankful to get into the Stott house. I had made it, and could just sit and wind down. When Josh and Abby asked me how I was, I answered, “Just very glad to finally be here!

One challenging part of the day:

  • I was feeling very, very tired in the week leading up to our trip. On the plane, some of that started to come back. I really wanted to stay awake and feel well, especially since I had to take care of Sarah as well as myself. Thankfully, I only felt sick and tired for a little while.

Three Blessings:

  1. Seeing all the Stotts again! Seeing them in person and actually talking while sitting across the table is such a great improvement on talking through a screen. They are some of the most hospitable people I know, and I always feel loved and like one of the family when I am with them.
  2. Lemon bars! Sarah knows me so well. Lemon bars are one of my favorite desserts and Sarah had them set out waiting for me when I came in the door! We all broke into them in the evening, and they were delicious.
  3. Baked potato soup. Mrs. Stott made an amazing soup, and after not having any lunch and flying for two-and-a-half hours, it certainly was welcome. I had three bowls of it while sitting outside, watching the sky flood with orange, pink, and yellow colors. The air was soft and warm, and I was fed not only physically, but emotionally and mentally as I sat there with my friends in the cool evening air.

Fun quotes:

  • Sarah Joy, as she watched the sky out of the window of the plane: “This really is the land of the clouds!”
  • Lady sitting next to me on the plane: “Someone must be cooking something.” Me, as I look rather sheepishly down at the snack of beef jerky in my hands: “Umm. . .I think it’s this.” The smell was permeating all the air around us! And it tasted just as good.

All in all, this was a blessed first day. It was tiring but exciting. I can’t wait to see what happens in this next week!

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Sarah read on the way to the airport. 

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Sarah watching the plane being prepared for flight. 

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Two Jersey girls going to Florida! We are all ready with our sunglasses. 

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It’s the land of the clouds! 

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Sarah got cranberry juice on the plane, just like I did on my first plane trip. 🙂 

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We didn’t just have beef jerky. . .there was also chocolate, cookies, and peanut butter pretzels. 

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We burned a Christmas tree with the Stotts in the evening. And wow, could I feel the heat!

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Sweet, tangy, gooey, oh-so-delicious lemon bars!

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Sarah and I had a little fun with the powered sugar on the lemon bars. Aren’t we regal and dignified? Ahem… 

Moments in Montague: A Breath of Fresh Air

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 

-2 Timothy 1:7 

At this point in my life, my school, writing and other activities are taking up a massive amount of brain space. Usually by 3:00 PM, my head is muddled and clouded, thick with a fog of words, algebra equations, anatomy terms, and the other various bits and pieces that make up my usual day. At that point, I know further learning efforts are futile, so I’ll escape from the house, usually snagging my sister Rebecca on the way, and sometimes my brother for good measure. We’ll bundle up against the frigid air, pull on our boots, and head out along on the road. I’ve gotten used to not having any sidewalks, and instead I have to mentally check to make sure I’m walking on the right side of the road. “Bike with the traffic, walk against the traffic.” (Thank you, learner’s permit test!)

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Walking on the small trail at the wildlife refuge. 

I cherish the time with my siblings that I get to have during these breaks. Rebecca commented that she likes taking walks together because we talk about serious things. It’s true. When we are out together, the conversation is rarely small-talk. We’ll fill in each other on our status in our daily task list, how we are feeling and holding up, and anything else that comes to mind. As we walk, I’ll breathe deeply of the crisp, clean air and fill my gaze with the bright blue sky and the towering trees that line the road. If the sky is mostly clear and the wind calm, the lake at the wildlife refuge will reflect the few clouds floating lazily along. We will walk and talk and enjoy each other’s company, and gradually, my head will clear.

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The lake at the Hainesville Wildlife refuge right down our road. It is stunning in every kind of weather.

However, just because we talk about meaningful things doesn’t mean we are always  serious. Oh no. When Isaiah tags along, we can be very much the opposite. Just on Tuesday, when one of my muddled-mind-phases came upon me, Isaiah, Rebecca and I walked to the wildlife refuge and stomped hearts and a giant “LOVE” in the snow on top of the dam next to the lake, in honor of Valentine’s Day. While there, I jumped on a frozen puddle in an attempt to break through it. Unfortunately, the ice didn’t take kindly to being stomped on and whisked my feet out from under me. I landed with a very surprised “thump” and my siblings laughed like they were crazy. There is always something to remember when we go out on one of our walks!

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Rebecca snapped a picture right after the ice took me down. As you can see, it provided everyone (including me) much amusement. 

One of my favorite parts of these times is when we wave at the people driving by. It doesn’t matter who they are, how fast they are going, or which way they are headed. We always make a point to wave and smile, and most people do the same back to us. There are a few who ignore us, or stare as if we were from another planet. After they pass, we pretend indignation and then collapse into laughter. However, most people – the truck drivers, minivan passengers, pick-up truck guys and the rest – seem genuinely friendly, and I hope that our smiles and waves brighten up their day a little. I know that their smiles brighten mine.

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My handsome, engaging, very amusing brother. He always adds an element of fun to our walks!

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Rebecca is my constant companion, a sister but also a friend, and the one who listens to just about everything I am thinking. We talk about pretty much everything under the sun.  

Those thirty-minute chunks of my day are priceless. They lift my spirit and give me a chance to appreciate and pay attention to God’s creation every day. They give me an opportunity to re-focus on my priorities, spend some quality time with my siblings, and clear my mind. Most of all, they let me slow down and take joy in the simple blessings of fresh air, good company, sunshine, and new grace in every moment. No matter what I’m facing, whether it be quadratic equations, sports medicine tests, dishes to wash, or the next chapter in my novel, I can pause and find peace. As my physical self is walking along in God’s creation, my soul can be still with Him and confident that He has everything under control. Through every season, both on the earth and in my life, His beauty grabs my attention and helps me focus on Him. No matter what inner turmoil I am facing or what external challenges I am up against, I know that when I seek Him, I will find Him. The evidence of His invisible presence made visible in His creation grounds me in clarity, strength, peace, hope, and a sound mind. 

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One of my favorite parts of the refuge is this bend in the road. When the sun shines through the trees, it’s like a picture out of a book. 

Sisters in the Lord, Growing Together

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.

– Psalm 1:1-3

Many different people have come through my life. Some walked in and waltzed out a short while later. Some drifted away through the years. And then there are the select, faithful, few who have come into my life and have never left. They remained with me, encouraged, challenged, and grew me. They have prayed for me and shaped my understanding of what a true, godly friend is. We shared the bread of sorrow as we walked through valleys and rejoiced side-by-side on the mountaintops. I have several such friends who are like sisters to me. One of the most rewarding and joy-inducing aspects of friendships like these is watching my friends grow closer to the Lord and become who He has called them to be. I have one sister-at-heart in particular who has brought me so much joy from watching her journey. She is one of my longest-lasting and dearest friends, Aubrielle.

I’ve known Aubrie for nine and a half years. She is one of the most faithful friends I have ever had. We don’t see each other that often, and never have. Our friendship has consisted of ten minutes here and there, a quick conversation after church, and the occasional birthday party. However, it’s the type of friendship where even if we don’t see each other for months, when we do, we pick up right where we left off.

The day I met her is imprinted in my memory. Shortly after my parents were divorced, we started attending Washington Crossing United Methodist Church in Pennsylvania. Aubrie was the worship pastor’s daughter. We (the “big kids”, at seven and eight years old) were working with the kid’s ministry, helping the younger ones make bead candy-canes. (It must have been around Christmas time.) She tried to help me with the child I was working with. I thought she was trying to steal my beads. Before I thought how it would sound, “Hey!” erupted from my mouth. Without a word, yet clearly upset, she told the man in charge of how I had interpreted her unspoken offer of help. We didn’t say anything else to each other and went our separate ways. Later that morning we met the worship pastor. I, for some reason, was rather awestruck. Then I saw Aubrie standing next to him. He introduced her as his daughter, and all of a sudden I got really, really scared. I cringed inside. Oh no! I thought. What have I done? I made the worship pastor’s daughter mad! I’m going to get into so much trouble. . . Thankfully, nothing of our earlier encounter was said, and we’ve been friends ever since. Aubrie still laughs when I tell her that story. She doesn’t remember a bit of it.

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Christmas pictures from the early years. 

Aubrie is a dancer. She is committed to the hours and rigorous physical demand that the art form requires, and she dances beautifully. It’s a wonderful gift that God has given her. In a career where many might seek to glorify themselves and their abilities, Aubrie desires to glorify the Lord. She told me that she loves dancing because in doing so she can express her love for the Lord beyond what words can express. Her goal is to dance for Ballet Magnificat: a Christian dance company. I’m fully convinced that she can and will make that goal. Because she combines her passion and the gift God has given her with her love for Him, I know He will bless that endeavor.

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Isn’t she beautiful? 

Even more beautiful than her dancing is her heart. Through the years, I’ve been blessed to share many challenges and journeys with her. Repeatedly, life wasn’t easy, and I remember reminding her often that God had a plan and a purpose. Dozens of conversations passed between us during those times. There is one distinct occasion that became a milestone in our friendship. My family never was big on sleepovers, so when I got to stay over for the first time—with Aubrie—it was a momentous event! It was just us, and once night came, we talked (a lot). Due to my limited experience, I don’t really know what girls usually talk about at sleepovers. From the books I’ve read, I would guess: Boys? School? Their friends or family? Their dreams? But I would suspect our conversation wasn’t the typical sleepover one. We talked about God, about what He was challenging us to do, about how to reach friends who were unbelievers, and about the concept of forever (which freaked me out—and sometimes still does).  It wasn’t a paltry conversation on a meaningless topic. On the contrary, we talked about the real stuff. This is the type of conversation that I love. That was the most open, God-centered, truly sharing conversation we had ever had. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back, I can see our words were evidence of God working in our lives, growing us towards Him and towards each other.

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We sang the Star Spangled Banner together in the church choir. 

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Our church musicals were times when we got to be together much more than usual. I enjoyed that so much!

In the summer of 2015, when she was fifteen and I was sixteen, life threw us both a somersault. Our dads were both getting new jobs, and we both were moving—far away. Life as we had always known it was in upheaval, and change was inevitable. Change transforms people—for better or for worse. Aubrie and I could have lost our trust in God’s good plan and grown apart from each other and from Him. Instead, we drew closer than ever before. Because of Pastor Jay leaving, there was much upheaval on the worship team, of which I was a part. One day, after learning some of my friends weren’t coming back to the team, my usual steadiness broke down. When I found Aubrie, I just started crying. She hugged me tightly, then looked me right in the face and spoke the words I had said to her so often in past years: “God is faithful. He has a plan. He knows what’s going on, and He will work it out for our best good, even if we can’t see it right now.” The tables were turned. Through much of our friendship, I had reminded her of God’s promises. Now I realized it wouldn’t primarily be me saying those words anymore. Instead, we would remind each other. Our relationship changed completely in that moment, from one that was more ministry on my part to one of fellowship.

One and a half years later, I can truly say that realization has become an established reality. Instead of living across the border from each other in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, she now lives in southern Florida and I live in northwestern New Jersey; But our friendship is stronger than ever. Our first phone call after we moved lasted for three or four hours—and it was one of the best conversations I have ever had! Words poured from our hearts as we talked about where we had seen God lately, as we shared how He was growing us, and as we discussed how we can better live to His glory.  At one point, just listening to her almost made me cry. I was—and am—so blessed to know her.

All our conversations are like that now. We text each other with prayer requests and assurances of God’s promises with the confidence that our words are backed up by how we live our lives. There is true meaning and action on behalf of one another. We share our challenges, our joys, and the knowledge of God’s love. I know whenever I talk with her, I will be encouraged.

And so, Aubrie, I’d like to say this to you:

I am so proud of you. Especially in the past two and a half years, you have grown in faith, forgiveness, courage, and grace in a way that astonishes me. I’m inspired by your mounting desire to honor God, to give Him your heart and life, and to love others the way He has loved you. You are a wonderful example to me and I look up to you. Every time I talk to you, I pray that God would let me have the same hunger for Him and desire to do right that you do. The years haven’t always been easy, but your friendship has given me treasures more valuable than gold or jewels. Your heart is priceless and you are beautiful, both inside and out. Thank you for walking by my side, for being one of the friends and sisters that has never left me, and for encouraging me in the Lord. I pray that I can do the same for you, and that together, we can serve Him for many, many years to come. I love you, sister of my heart.

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New Year’s, just a few months before we both moved. 

This post is one of the times when words seem to fail me, and the ones I have managed to get down onto the page don’t seem to do justice to what I want to say. It is an attempt to express how grateful I am for Aubrie. Watching her grow into who the Lord has called her to be has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. To grow alongside her and be able to fellowship together is one of the greatest blessings the Lord has given me. That blessing continues to be bestowed with every conversation we share, every smile and hug, and every day we spend growing and walking together, side by side, as sisters and daughters of our King.

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

 – Proverbs 31:30

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Aubrie, her cousin and my friend Hannah, and I. This was just a few weeks ago when Aubrie and her family came to visit. It was the first time I had seen her since she moved, and our time was such a blessing! 

Fearless in My Father’s Arms

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:27

I’ve always had an aversion to sickness. Not that anyone likes it, but I have battled with a real and unhealthy fear of it for most of my life. There were a few instances when I nearly got sick from worrying instead of succumbing to the actual germ. The dread of expecting to get sick—just waiting for it to happen—was worse than the actual sickness. You can imagine that having my siblings get sick is among one of the more undesirable realities of my life. But even worse is when one of my parents gets sick—especially when the other parent is gone and I am in charge. So, when Mom got sick with a weird upset-stomach-headache-thing last week, I felt some real anxiety.

That evening, just an hour or so after Mom started feeling really bad, I was downstairs eating dinner with my siblings. I had no appetite. The moments ticked slowly by as we waited for Dad to come home. He had called and said he would be home in about a half hour, and I literally sat and watched the hands on the clock as they crept along. My siblings finished their dinners, but I stayed glued to my seat and picked at my now-cold food with no relish whatsoever. Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen. Where is Dad? I thought. He’s supposed to be home by now!

Sitting there, I felt anything but bold, brave, and invincible. I clung to the hope that Dad would be home in the next moment. It was like I was a little girl again, just waiting for Daddy to come, because he would “make it all right” again. That’s exactly how it felt. Somehow, I was confident that having Dad home would make everything okay.

At long last, the door opened. I rose to my feet, feeling a great smile cover my face. A sudden peace started to flood back over me. “Dad! You’re home!” I walked over to him. “I am so glad to see you.” He hugged me close, and there, in his arms, I felt a complete peace and safety that instantly melted the fear that had taken over. The house was in disarray, Mom was still sick, and I desperately wanted to stay healthy, but the icy grip of fear had let me go. Dad was there, and everything was all right again.

Later, thinking about how I reacted to that situation, God convicted me of a truth that sprung out at me. He is my Father, and He has told me not to fear. Personally, fear is my nemesis—the enemy I must constantly battle. That night when Mom was sick, it had me in its grip again, and I let it steal my joy. But I found peace again in Dad’s presence, his mere nearness, and the confidence that he would take care of me. How much more am I able to find it in the arms of my Heavenly Father, who knows my heart and my needs and every bit of my fear and doubt! In His presence I find refuge. His love banishes all my fear, which has no authority where He is. When I am afraid, I can just run to Him, into His arms, where I will be safe. I know He is in control, and I am confident that, with my Father with me, everything will be all right.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish.  Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all. For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.’” – Isaiah 41:10-13