God is good. All the time. No really, He is.

God is good. All the time. All the time. God is good. Growing up in the church I had this drilled into me and would probably participate in the back-and-forth recital of it in my sleep. Recently however, I realized that I was not entirely convinced of its truth. But I’m His faithfulness, this summer God has really helped me to believe that He is good and wants what is best for me.

The day before my trip to Haiti I was given news that rocked my world. It put into question the biggest dream I have had for my since I was a little girl. In Haiti I saw extreme poverty, systems that did not work and too many orphaned children. Over summer I have really struggled with my worth and identity. Through it all though God gave me an unexplainable joy that strengthened me each day. I was able to speak life into others while finding truth for myself in Jesus.

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”

Psalm 56:8

Jesus cares that my heart was breaking and that my worth was not being found in Him. He is with me while I am ugly crying (every fortnight…) and when I am questioning why things happen. Not only that but He holds my sorrows and turns them into joy. The deeper my sorrows have been, the deeper the joy that He gives me has been.

I arrived at summer camp not knowing a soul and not having my phone during the week to contact my friends and family back home. This forced me to turn to God when I was tired for energy; when I was frustrated for patience; when I was doubting for confidence; when I was grieving for joy. He was faithful in providing me with community to love and support me, and for very gently challenging me to put my hope and identity back in Him.

It has been a tough summer of growth, but I feel closer to who I am meant to be each day. I am looking forward to continue walking out this growing season of rediscovering me and leaning more and more into Jesus. I may not be meeting my earthly standards of what, where and who I should be, but I have hope that I am becoming closer to who Jesus made me to be – which gives me so much peace and joy!

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭15:13‬

Both of these verses God gave me at pivotal moments this summer through wonderful friends and mentors, which is another testament to His goodness and faithfulness. Even in my doubt and in the days where I have not turned to Him with my pain, He hunts me down and showers me with love. He is a good, good Father.

Pandora’s Box: Technology & Shame

Week 2 of Pandora’s Box! We’re starting off slowly and will gradually get uglier and messier here on the ol’ blog. This week we tag-team to Mima, who wrote about how technology stole our worth and can cause so much shame because it steals the identity for which we were created. How technology is shaping and taking over our lives is often talked about, and the conversation is slowly turning also to how much shame and identity questioning is caused by social media. So, here’s our take on a very important topic that is going to keep getting more important as technology and social media gets bigger.

 

The first identity you and I ever held was child, daughter or son.
We were held in tender arms as we uttered our first cries and were nestled upon our mother’s hearts.
We fastened ourselves upon her bosom in complete trust that she would nourish us and not give us poison.
Our fathers held us, a fragile bundle in hands that could easily engulf but instead swore to protect and love.
Our needs of being seen, being known, being love, being taken care of were all met.
As children our needs were easily met, or is more accurate to say our needs were more readily explained and affirmed?

In an ideal world the above would be normal, it isn’t.
Some of you have never known what pure unconditional love from your mother looks or feels like.
Some of you have never known what pure unconditional love from your father looks or feels like.
Some of you have never known what pure unconditional love from anyone looks or feels like.
When this need to be loved is not met by Someone outside of ourselves, we go looking for that Someone who or whatever they maybe.

(Please note you are completely free to argue with me,)

What if social media is parenting us? What if that has become the place we feel safe, known, loved.
What if we are being coached to connect better with a screen than we are with tangible presence?
What if we have been taught to associate the number of likes with life?
What if we rather take a picture of where we were so that other people know where we were rather than enjoy being in the moment.
Who do we turn to in the midst of a crisis?
When we are bored?
When we want to celebrate?
When we want?
When we need?
Who do we reach out to?

I understand why it’s easier to interact with your screen than it is to talk to flesh and blood.
There is no risk.
Your screen won’t judge you.
You can hide behind it and no one is the wiser.
You can speak to it and it doesn’t speak back.
It can just lie there lifeless in your hands and yet somehow it holds your life.

When you have thought or have been brought up thinking that maybe you are not worth the risk of loving, it’s hard to risk and let others in. I was brought up in a good home and like any good home it has its issues, added to that a sinful nature, a fallen world; the result is a trapped mind.

Trapped in looking for validation any place other than where it is freely given.
Trapped in placing other fallen beings as my judge when there is only one true and just Judge.
Trapped in believing that no one can save me so I have to look out for myself.
So I scroll through the likes, flick through the faces that light up, do a song and dance for my “crowd”.

When did technology when did social media become our Savior, Judge and Lord? The day we forgot to love our God with all our strength, all our heart and with all our soul.

As you grow and learn, you realize that getting into a relationship is not the end goal, its merely the beginning. You find that comparatively getting into a relationship is far easier than maintaining, sustaining and growing said relationship.

You find that to grow a relationship requires risk, opening up your heart fully to another person. What if true life is found within risking it all? What if true life is found in being present in both our relationship with God and our relationship with others?

Jesus modelled that.

He showed that it’s a relationship with the Father, a needy relationship, a submitted relationship that is where true life is found.  A relationship where things get messy, where things are not Pinterest perfect or Instagram worthy. Where the mark of our relationship with God is not that we graduate into self-sufficiency but we graduate into childlikeness dependency.

To be quite honest, the gospel tastes like vinegar to me sometimes I wanna spit it out and run away. Maybe when you have had a lifetime of drinking poison, the antidote actually tastes bitter not because its bad but because its different.

Heaven looks nothing like this planet, there is no orphan mentality, there is no fear of authority, there is no sense of being lost, there is no death, and there are no lies. There is a Heavenly Good Father cares for us, wants the best for us, protects us, loves us and that all of those needs were met in Jesus.

Am I the only one who struggles with this? That the moment I repented and said yes to God (Christianese of accepted God into my heart) instantly the righteousness of Jesus was put on me and I was adopted into the Kingdom of Heaven. God the creator of the heavens is now my Father and He loves me. He wants to be the one I got to when I am bored, when I am needy, when I am tempted to booty call that guy, when I am mess.

To be human, I have realized is to be in a constant state of need. To be a Christian is to consistently bring that need to God my Father and expect Him to meet it. We can’t outgrow our childlikeness, we can try and stuff it down but deep down inside we know we are not that strong, we are not that great. And that’s okay.

God is a good father, who nourishes us more than our mothers can, protects us more than our fathers can and loves us far more than the love of anyone on this planet.

So, let’s stop making idols out of our phones, our sex drive, our parents, our lovers, our kids, our food, our bodies, our thought, our feelings.
Let us return to God, believe in Him and be the much loved child whose needs are always met.

You will always be a child in Your Heavenly Father’s eyes and that is more than okay.

Pandora’s Box: Shame

Shame. It’s such a small word but carries such weight and power. In 2015 I realised how much shame was controlling me; how it held me captive and distorted my identity. I reached a point where the burden of shame was just too heavy to carry, it had my heart feeling sick. One dark, cold Dunedin night I broke. I spilled my ugliness and exposed my heart’s wounds to Mima and my sister who received me with open hearts and open arms. After that night and a few difficult phone calls to my parents I realised that the power of guilt and shame lay in silence. Your sin and screw ups can only haunt you if you keep quiet about them. The more open I was about my mistakes, the less shame I felt; it opened the door for support, love and accountability. I realised that I am not a sum of my mistakes; my identity lies as a daughter of the King, bought at the highest price. That did not make me perfect, the scars of my mistakes I will carry with me forever, but it did open up the door for grace and forgiveness.

As has been the theme with a lot of my posts and rants the last year or so, this new series was born out of the realisation that the more we stay silent the more life will get the better of us. The more I talked to people about the true state of my life, the more I realised that I am not alone. I am not alone in my loneliness, in my struggles, in my shame, in my doubt, in my stupidity, in my sadness. I was talking to Mima one night about how angry I was that I had lived under the burden of shame for so long for no reason and that especially in the church we feel the need to sugar coat our lives to glorify our sanctification. But in doing so we are taking away the power of grace. Grace can only be powerful when we are humble enough to admit that we are not perfect. And so the idea of Pandora’s Box was born. We are aiming to cover all things taboo; all the things that we all know but are too afraid to talk about. In doing so we hope to start conversation here and wherever you are. We hope to empower you to uncover your wounds to let them heal.

When I called my Dad to tell him of the shame that I had been carrying around I remembering crying my heart out. I said to him, “Daddy, I have something I need to tell you but I’m so scarred. I feel so awful and I don’t want you to be angry or disappointed.” In broken sentences and a flood of tears I told Dad everything, I opened my wounds hoping at the most that he would not scratch them open and cast me out. Dad paused for a while and then choking back tears of his own he said to me, “I have never loved you more than I love you right now. Thank you for loving me enough to share this with me. You are not alone in this.” I realised in that phone call that if my earthly Dad could respond like that to the biggest stuff ups of my entire life, how much more love my heavenly Father would extend to me. I realised that Jesus died so that we could curl up on Abba’s chest and ugly cry while we told Him what we’ve done. Jesus died so that Abba could hold us and heal our wounds instead of casting us aside. I found so much comfort in realising that I did not need to hide from God when I did the wrong thing, but that I could run to him with arms wide open and collapse into His arms.

When I sat on Abba’s knee and told Him about my shame, insecurity and hypocrisy I found my identity in His love and grace. I realised that I am forgiven and am not defined by what I did. It has taken me many months to be comfortable enough to start this series, to realise that it exposes me to mass-judgement and risks my reputation and many friendships. But I am ready, ready to write out of a place of being scarred, not carrying around festering wounds. All it took for me to find peace, restoration and freedom was to hear a resounding “me too” from loved ones, from role models and from Jesus. To realise that I am not alone.

My hope and prayer for you reading this is that as we take this journey of opening Pandora’s Box that you will find that too. That you will hear a “friend, me too” in every word that we say or write. That you will feel the love that we are extending to you and that you too will be able to sit on Abba’s knee and empty your heart; to exchange your wounds for freedom. That you will look at the scars on Jesus’ hands and realise that they are there so that you can be free of shame, because you are not alone in your pain. The video above is a spoken word piece that Mima and I wrote together and really summarises our hope for this series that we are tackling together; that you will find freedom from your shame when you embrace vulnerability. So friend, I ask that you open your heart for the next few weeks as we get our hands dirty. Please read what we have to say with eyes of grace and love, and realise that we are not doing this to point fingers or condemn anyone. Please also have patience with us as we explore making videos – we are doing it so that you can hear our hearts behind our words, that they will be more than words on a screen. Please hold our hearts as we share them very vulnerably with you.

Buckle up loves, we are in for a bumpy ride but the reward waiting on the other side is so worth it! As always, drop us a comment and let’s start this conversation!

 

Note: The music in the video is not ours, it was done by Kai Engel

I am 21: It ends with ‘happily ever after’

Last one before we tackle something even scarier on the blog! We have tackled the task of remembering the complexity and simplicity of every stage of our lives, in order to best love and serve the younger ones around us. To finish off, we have a piece to encourage us college-aged girls.

Today we have Mother Bear on the blog! I definitely inherited my love for writing from my mum; she has an amazing gift that I wish I got to see more often. My mother is just that, a mother through and through. She is also a wife, a friend, a daughter, a sister, a writer, a speaker, a prayer, a psychologist, a professional, and is successful in everything that she does. Most importantly though, she is my mother. She has an amazing testimony of restoration and finding renewal, strength and joy in Jesus, and the fruit of His freedom is so evident in her life! I am so privileged to have been raised by this amazing woman; is is both strong and gentle, just and kind. It is fair to say Mamma, I definitely gave you the most cheek of us three and probably fought with you the most too, but you always stayed patient and understanding. Probably because you were fighting with the mini version of yourself… For those of you not fortunate enough to have met my Mamma yet, she is best described in Autumn patterns. She is fun, a moment-maker, creative, colourful, loving, deep, and shows great love for everyone she meets. I love you Mamma and am so thankful for everything that you do and who you are; and so thankful for this love of writing that we share!

All the posts the last while have been beautiful and have absolutely touched my heart, but this one was the one that brought me to tears. So without further ado, enjoy this beautiful encouragement from my Mamma to you!

Untitled design

I am 21. We are dancing, I have my arms in the air and a smile in my heart. Tonight I am wearing my long pleated brown skirt and matching top, leather belt and my Cowboy boots. Oh, them boots, I love them. Wear them every day and everywhere!

My family is here tonight, to celebrate with me. Dad, had organised it all. He is happy. I look up and know that he sees me tonight. Together.  It has been a long time since we had all been together.

Not long ago, I saw dad smiling at her. Adulterer.  Lies.  Denial.  Rejection.  A lonely girl in her Cowboy boots, in a lonely city…

Longing to be seen.

I keep busy and study hard. I achieve.  There is this boy in my life. He is fun and dynamic, yet toxic.

At night I dream and long for “one day”. When morning unfolds her brightness over me, I keep busy. Meals are small and very controlled. I exercise. Driven to be busy.

Dear, sweet little girl, how I wish you could know that not long from now, your stride will change. You will find home in the Father’s house and know that HE knows you and that HE sees you! You will never feel lonely again and the “busy” will become content.

Them boots will dance, dance before Jesus!

You will discover your calling in life and fall in love with an amazing gentle- giant of a man. You were ready to meet him, because you had spent time with Jesus.

Those fears that haunted you, the loneliness, rejection, perfectionism,  insecurities, abuse, all of them, taken from you when you sat down at the Father’s feet and opened your ears to hear His Word.

I am so proud of you! You chose to run after God. To believe what He said about you. You chose to let go of self-doubt and the staring judgment of their eyes.  You studied the Word and memorised verse upon verse. You pulled on His Armor and sharpened your sword.  Most off all you softened your tongue. You speak life and tend to others now.

Them boots will be traded for walking boots.  You will go from dusty-red African sunsets to amazing greens and oranges in the South-Pacific.

My garden blossoms here in the green:  there is a meadow full of wild flowers, a rose-bud and a bright yellow sunflower.

Sunflower springs into action at the first sight of light. Her eyes are filled with life. Adventure is what she loves. She reminds me of a brown-eyed 21 year old, and yet, there is more. More passion, more purpose, more focus, more love.

I put down the watering can and smile.

Thank you Father for tending my garden, even when I am far away and not able to prune and feed. Thank you Abba for my Sunflower who is now wearing bright Texas orange and waking up content, knowing that You know her and see her.

The truth behind 18 years of lies and life

I genuinely don’t know where to start with talking about the woman. If you took me, added a extra dash of dorkiness, took away netball and left me in the sun for rest of my life – you’d get Wilma. She has been a great asset to my life the last 4-5 years that I have known her; she has encouraged me, held my broken pieces when I was too ashamed to share them with anyone else, told me countless times that I am a dweeb, laughed and dreamed with me and called me up when I am in the wrong. She is a inspiration to me when it comes to writing (check out her awesome blog here) and one of the unfortunate souls who is stuck with me for life! Her honesty and teachability are amazing and I absolutely love the way that she wholeheartedly pursues knowing Jesus more intimately every day. I don’t know someone who so actively seeks to grow and improve themselves consistently like Wilma. She’s a gem and I love her to bits! Here is her perfectly written piece on being 18!



The tick tock march of the times always sojourns forever forward.  Quite like the beat of your own heart; always a steady beat, beat continuously itching forward to what? What is the desired end my beloved 18 year old self, that time and heart strings reach forward to? 

The Truth

The truth; it gently cups your face, looks tenderly into your face and says you are going to be okay.   

With each change life brings, with each day your heart beats into the future, in every moment you are going to be okay.  

I know the world seems bleak, there is so much confusion and deep emotional swirls but be still; you are held in God’s hands.  

Especially when you feel like letting the grip go and fall into silent, painless oblivion. The One who died to give you life abundantly is holding you with nail scarred hands. He has stared into the black abyss of death and conquered it, beloved seal this into your bones; He went through hell so that you wouldn’t have to.  

So with each change life brings and there will be many.  

With each day your heart beats into the future, for you will live and have life abundantly.  

In every moment no matter how painful; you are going to be okay.  

Beloved take a walk with me, you keep asking why I keep calling you beloved.  

You scurry away from that word like a cockroach exposed to light.  

It’s time to stop living in the darkness of the lies you are cowering under. You were not created to have clandestine meetings with Luke-warm and drink stolen waters. You were re-created to live in the light and to bask in the love that God lavishes on you.  

You don’t know God very well at this time but don’t worry He knows you. 

One day you will be able to see the tenderness He gazes at you with as you stagger slowly towards Him.  

One day you will know the tone of His voice, the gentle, quiet voice that draws you closer and deeper into Love.  

One day you will catch a glimpse of how much you are loved and be forever changed.  

You don’t know yourself yet, but you will.  

Who are you?  

Why, you are the Beloved. You are chosen and set apart for God. For Good works.  

No matter the accolade, no matter the adoration from parents, no matter the embrace of a lover.  

They are all mere dung compared to the knowledge and the revelation that you are the Beloved of God. Chosen by and for Him alone.  

If I could go back to my 18 year old self, this is what I would tell her. 

The tick tock march of time always sojourns forward, we can’t bend it but we can reflect and allow another, you precious reader, to glimpse behind and see.

That God is with us in every moment, He is faithful beloved so take His hand and walk this life together. 

From your 22 year old self.

 

 

Fifteen: Pick up the pen

My turn again! I was sitting here wondering who was meant to do this week’s post, then I remembered it was me… Then I procrastinated writing; watched too many episodes of Gilmore Girls, went to the baseball and had spring break instead. 

Many of you knew me at 15, or at least have heard about what life and Petro were like in 2011. For those of you that don’t know that part of my saga, you can read a bit about it on my GUCCI Girls Night post. So, we’ll just jump straight into me at 15 years old. 


You’re fifteen, vulnerable and insecure. You have absolutely no clue who you are, where you’re going or what you’re doing. Fear of being pushed aside or unjustly benched keeps you sharp, sarcastic and loud. You find your worth in success in school and sport, and the pains of worthlessness come from having no control over relationships and joy. Joy. Dang, that’s an elusive idea!

Darling, pick up your pen. You’ve always been interested in words but saw poetry as boring. Literature is far more powerful than an A on your report card. Your heart spills so beautifully through ink. The dark, chilling phrases scribbled on napkins, whiteboards, folders and scrap paper will bring the sweetest relief. 

You’ve never viewed yourself as depressed, it’s a label that doesn’t fit you. You don’t fit the stereotypical behaviors or gothic persona. Your family is outwardly perfect. You laugh a lot and to the untrained eye life is going perfectly for you. You are involved in prayer ministry and are supporting your friends through their own struggles. I see you though. I hear your silent pleas not to wake up the next morning and feel the heavy pit in your heart. 

So pick up the pen. Write, dream, explore, exaggerate, minimize and paint pictures with your words. After you’ve run your lungs raw and feel drained after exuding your aggression on your netball opponent and your insecurity by arguing withthe poor boys in class: write. Always write, but keep your journal to yourself. You want others to read it to understand the rawness inside, but they never will. You can paint the best picture, but art always requires the viewer to interpret what they’re seeing. 

Keep writing, never stop. One day your pieces will skip along the page instead of dragging their feet and you will need to extend your vocabulary to find new synonyms for “happy”. Your notebook of poems will start to leak onto a blog, but instead of bleeding into electronic ink you will craft a letter of hope and encouragement to share. If your heart needs to bleed, bleed into paper and then share that relief online. Never encourage out of a wound, first give it time to heal and always use your words to encourage others. 

There will come a day when that pit will be filled with petals and the rawness gently healed. You will never be fully okay, no one ever is, but you will find joy. You will find the boldness to dream and the courage tthat chase down those dreams. You will find friends, be patient dear. Always love others, always be honest and be open to making mistakes. You will still be hurt by people and hurt a good many yourself, but you will learn the art of forgiveness and restitution. 

Hang in through the winter dear, spring is coming and it is beautiful! Keep smiling and enjoy those dashes of happiness. Love your netball team, those girls will provide some of your most cherished memories and will be the cushion that your heart is seeking. You will never have a team like that again, make every single second with them count. Embrace grief, it will open doors to connect with your family and show your friends your true heart. 

Though this season is marked by a depth of sadness you will hopefully not experience again, it is not defined by it. You will still laugh and enjoy life. You will still seem like you have it all together and are happy, because Jesus is holding all your pieces together and His joy is giving you strength. Never let go of Him, He is the only hope you need to survive till tomorrow. 

You are about to undergo a massive life change moving cities, it will be challenging but so rewarding! Everything you hate about yourself now will be challenged and eventually it will either fixed or you’ll come to terms with it. Some of friends you have now and are abut to make will stay around for a long time yet (that English one who keeps harassing you to call her – keep her, she’s of great value), but some you will outgrow and that’s okay. It will hurt because your friends mean everything to you, but you will always remember them fondly and love them.

Remember that all it takes for friends to be there for you is for you to ask for them to be, you are awfully good at seeming okay. Be honest when people ask how you are. Be willing to sit on the outskirts of a group and never truly fit in, you were never made to be part of the crowd. 
So darling, wear your retainer and curly hair with pride, embrace whatever fashion statements you want (you’re going to regret them later regardless of what you choose), run, play, laugh, be a kid, work hard, embrace grief and love people. Most importantly though; pick up the pen and write. 

Ten Years Vulnerable

As I mentioned before, this mini-series is all about getting perspective back into the lives of young girls, as many of us are in positions of serving these girls. Last week we looked at being five, how much doubt and fear there can be at that age and how gracious God is to keep us joyful at that age.

This week we are jumping forward to ten-years-old, and hearing from another girl is super dear to my heart. This girl was my childhood best friend and around this age we were as thick as thieves. She was there for my first real crush and first heartbreak, for a large portion of my God-moments, multitudes of laughs and backyard camping, my Cabbage Patch pal, the girl who inspired me to get a Baby-G and joined me in the awkward brace-face phase. She runs her own successful blog at  Lovely’s Little Adventures, y’all should go check her out.

Lovely, I am so proud of the amazing woman you have become and the ministry you have. I am so thankful for you and love you so much! 10 was an interesting and busy time for you and for us, and you capture it so nicely on it below.

Without further ado, enjoy the world’s most tragic photo of 13(ish)-year-old us and then how stunning my friend has become!

To my ten year old self,

First off – you’re going to be okay. Sometimes in the darkest nights, you don’t think you’re going to make it, but you are. Be excited for all the things God is going to do in your life, and in you. But most of all, be excited for the people God’s going to bless you with.

I know making friends is hard, and it will continue to be a struggle (yay for being an introvert), but there are some really cool people who are in your life right now, and some that will walk in a little later. Although people will hurt you, it’s okay, because we’re all human and you’re definitely going to hurt others too. You’ll get to experience God’s love and healing, and you’re going to make lifelong friends.

Appreciate the different seasons in life. Sometimes you’ll naturally drift away from people and although it’s going to be hard for a little while, God’s going to fill the gaps. But for now, enjoy the friends you have and make lots of fun memories. When you get older, you’re going to be so thankful for all the times you’ve spent at the Swart house.

Learning isn’t going to be something you’ll only be doing at school. You’ll look back and realise how much you’ve learned from other people, from books, from life experiences. But there are going to be things you’re going to have to unlearn, but it’s okay. You’re always going to be growing, changing and learning, but at the end of the day, you’re really going to love it.

Life is going to take some twists and turns, and you’re really going to have no idea how you ended up where you are as a 20 year old, but enjoy the ride! Don’t get so caught in trying to find your worth in your grades, in relationships or in trying to be perfect. Don’t let words sink into your heart that aren’t from God. And don’t be so hard on yourself. Sometimes you are your own worst critic. You’re going to love who God created you to be, and life is going to be so much more fun when you do.

Love,

Me

A letter to my five-year-old self

Hey friendlings, we’re going to be doing something new here on the blog for the next wee while!

I friend of mine challenged us at the AIA winter retreat that I went to to stop praying just for ourselves, but to pray for and care for others. I didn’t think much of it at first but it really hit me recently. A lot of us are coming into seasons or are neck deep in seasons were we are serving younger people, whether that be at summer camps, church ministries, helping out at community events or coaching. With all of that in mind, I thought it would be super useful to take a trip down memory lane and remember what it was like to be younger, but also have a look into what it was like for other people to be younger. So I have asked people that I love to share a little something about or to their younger selves so that you don’t have to listen to my life story all over again.

Today we kick things off with one of the people that I love, respect and cherish most on the planet. She’s my personal angel, model, role model, baker, artist, listening ear and lifesaver. If you have had the privilege of meeting her and hearing her story, you know that she is a person of great character and strength. She shares bits of her struggle in moving to NZ right before starting school without knowing a word of English – the fact that she wrote such a beautiful piece in itself is testament to how far she has come! She is currently 21, just graduated college (whoop whoop!), is working and on her way to work at a summer camp in the US in May!

So, without further ado, my sister ladies and gentlemen…

Dear Younger Me

Welkom in Nieu-Seeland.

Life will have been looking, and sounding, very different to you lately. You probably have not realised it yet but this wet, green country is home now. These strangers who sing different songs and don’t always where their school uniform are to be your people.

I know you are very lonely and confused and that you miss all that you have left behind, but do not be discouraged. There is actually far more to love about this new place than to despise. In time you came me to see this and to find your own niche among kiwis, though you are unable to envision it now.

Let me reassure you; someday this-terrible-English will not be so terrible. Someday you will understand your classmates, your teachers and the strange behaviour of the general populace. Someday you will find that you can in fact do the work assigned to you and do it very well. But I caution you not to allow the opinions and standard of others to others to determine your view of yourself: whether good or bad. You are hard enough a taskmaster that criticism will crush you and constant praise will become an addiction. On that note; learn to be teachable. You do not know everything because you read it in a book and you learn better from demonstration anyway.

As you can see, I know you very well. That is experience talking. It is the greatest of teachers but requires you to make peace with occasional mistakes. Remember that failing does not make you a failure and that steel must be tempered to be strengthened. This trial you are going through will teach you compassion for the lost and courage in the face of confusion. Just like Paul, learn to treasure adversity. Remember also that you view the world through a different lens and that it will not always understand or accept your perspective. As Pappa says; different is special and special is good. Do not wish away a part of yourself in order to gain what another has. God did not make any mistakes in the making of you.

I promise that you will come through this, and with barely a scar to show for it, as the most important parts of your previous life came with you. Your ever-supportive family and all-loving Abba will never abandon you. You already know that God has not given you a spirit of fear but of love, power and a sound mind; next you need to learn that you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength. So have courage. Eventually you will know that He never puts you through beyond what you can bear and that He works all things to the good of those who fear Him. Abba’s got this, but that’s not something you will realise for at least another thirteen years.

So just continue to marvel at the ‘glittery’ streets, the beach that’s just down the road, the chocolate croissants at the corner bakery and that your chest is ever less constricted. Enjoy being young enough to attend the Christian Men’s Network breakfasts and eating more than your share of the bacon. There will be a time when that will be frowned upon. Play outrageously and at every opportunity. Do not let the risk of dirt or humiliation keep you from enjoying every day that you are given. Laugh from the depths of your being, that your joy may be shared and have an open heart that you may be welcomed.

Yours sincerely,

One who has seen a little more of the bigger picture.

PS: Make friends with the little girl in your class with the soft smile and long, pale curls. You will not regret the time invested.

Not enough. Never enough. Maybe one day.

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I recently started hitting the gym again properly, for the first time since starting college. Highly hypocritical of me to be wanting to make top teams and rep teams when I was not putting the work in, I know. When I first moved down to Dunedin to study, I was on track to be super fit for trials and had excess motivation to start training seriously on arrival to the Dirty South. Until I set foot in my dorm and walked around campus. Fear, intimidation, doubt and self-criticism put me on a track of not training but being at my fittest ever by the end of my Sophomore year. Why? Because instead of piling on my Freshman Five, I dropped cms for the next two years. Even people who I hardly knew saw it. I lost all my muscle mass and the puppy fat that surrounded it. Yet it was only around September last year that it hit me that I was not a big person. Starting to sound like an eating disorder I know, but it’s not that, don’t stress.

I did not go workout, because I hated being in the gym and playing the comparison game and because I would be hitting the treadmill for all the wrong reasons. The workouts I planned were no longer to gain strength and agility, but rather to minimise all the flaws that I saw in myself. I used to love working out, but with the wrong motivation I hated it. So, I stopped. I used to enjoy managing what I ate to fuel my body and feel how that improved my stamina and metabolism, but found myself managing my meals to manage how I looked. So, I stopped caring what I ate and dropped weight without planning to. Athletes are by nature all or nothing people, and going all in with the wrong motivation was going to lead me down a dangerous path, so I quit. And I nearly quit the game too.

End of my Freshman year I wanted to throw in the towel and would have if it were not for a 10pm text from my coach telling me I had a week before trials that I had a good shot at. So, I started eating well, then got sick. I started hitting the ground for sprint training, then I injured my knee – to this day I still do not know what was wrong with it or how it happened, I just knew that I could not walk on my knee. I went to trials anyway, only to get there to find out that the time and venue for trials had changed. I was an hour late and on the other side of town with just my bike. I cried. A lot. As I was on the phone to my mum seeking some level-headed advice, I looked up and my aunty was driving past. Coincidence? If you say so. God? Definitely. I missed the fitness testing, so could smash the drills and games as I was fresh while everyone else was shattered, and I made the group.

Read: Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

I had to learn to totally rely on God in an impossible situation and for the first time in my life laid my sport performance 100% in His hands. There is a difference in dedicating your performance to God and surrendering completely to Him. I was great at dedicating my performances to God, it meant that I was still in control and then would just give the credit to Him afterwards, or ask for His help or intervention when the chips were down. Now I had to learn that Philippians 4:13 did not mean that I can do most things in my own strength and the hard things in His strength, it meant that ALL things that I do were in His strength. Tough pill to swallow in the world of sports.

Which brings me full circle to the journey of body image that I discussed before. I used to be pretty comfortable in my skin, but something happened that I became pretty concerned with the flaws that I saw in myself. I am not sure whether it stemmed from putting friendships and relationships on such a great pedestal that I wanted so badly to be deemed attractive or fit in with the crowd. I did not realise how much I judged my own appearance while admiring everyone else until I took the photo above. I was wanting to record my gym progress and accidentally captured the photo looking at my reflection like this. So much disappointment and judgement in one look. So, while I have already challenged myself to step up the game in getting into the Word and fasting, I have challenged myself to be content in being single and start loving and dating myself (which is difficult because God blessed American genes, but it makes the success so much sweeter). By the end of 2017, when I take my last progress photo, I want to capture myself looking genuinely impressed and happy with how I look. Not smiling just to reach the goal, but I want to accept and love every part of me.

At the end of the day, if I can surrender my performance and strength to God and not take any credit away from my sport, surely, I can accept that the God who made the world around me so beautiful and blessed humanity with such an amazing gift of creativity would not spare any of His love and creativity and stuff up what I look like. Body image is tough, so much tougher in worlds where your performance and acceptance are so reliant on your body, but I am going to crack this. I am no less of an athlete if my calves are non-existent and my abs and biceps are merely an afterthought. I am no less of an athlete if I do not wear activewear or own the best brands. I am no less an academic if I choose to wear activewear and go to the gym. The crowning glory: I am not unfeminine because I am an athlete. I am no longer defined by my sport (thank goodness, because no one here has heard of it), so why have I substituted that to be defined by how I look? It’s an ongoing journey, this is just the day after I realised how much I despised my body and that I need to change that.

Special shout out to all my sisters, every time your heart sinks when you look in the mirror at that new zit that popped up, another bad hair day or the fact that you still don’t look magazine worthy – you are not alone in that. I am there next to you with my own sigh of disappointment. Especially if you are in the world of performing or sports, sister I see you, I feel that stress and pain. Let’s crank up the music and have a dance party in front of the mirror, filled with so much joy that you sprain an ankle (it’s a true story, I did that one time and am looking forward to doing it again). Let’s learn to love ourselves together. If for no other reasons, so that I can have better honest selfies to put on the gram…

Expecting Change – Or Changing Expectations

Original Post: 20/05/2012

When life becomes unpredictable; do you expect change or change your expectations?
The last four months of my life have been challenging; everything has changed, and then changed again. All the expectations that I had for the move, all the hopes that I had for the future changed. Maybe I had my head in the clouds, dreamed to extreme and never gave myself a reality check. Even though I expected change, life forced me to change my expectations.
Changing schools for the first time, having to make new friends and having to start building a new name for myself on the netball court, took a bigger toll on me than I expected change would. At heart I’m a shy person so having to make new friends chilled me to the bone. It still does. I came across very unapproachable, probably stuck up, but honestly, I was dying inside. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, I didn’t want to be able to trust anyone, I didn’t want to open up to anyone. I didn’t want to be happy here. Why? Because after a few days; I was forced to change my expectations.
I moved with the expectation that everything that my family had built up over the past 12 years in New Zealand we would just find comfortably on the other side. I expected that I would be welcomed into my new school like we used to welcome new kids at my old school and that I would succeed further on my past victories. Basically, I thought that I would just be able to continue with my old life once I moved. Yes, I expected that there would be change but not on too large a scale. But, like I mentioned before, it only took a few days for reality to kick in. I realised that my expectation of just continuing with my over-easy life would have to change. I wasn’t in the same community, not even the same island, so I couldn’t expect to live the same life. Expecting the change in my life was easy, because it was a cliché expectation. But having to change my expectation on what to expect was tough.
I said earlier that I didn’t want to be happy here and sadly that is true. I was frozen with shock when I realised what the word change means – nothing, or barely anything, stays the same – and I was nervous that what I would find would not suit me. I was comfortable where I was and I wasn’t in the mood for discomfort, having to fit into a new mould so I sub-consciously made up my mind to not be happy. I didn’t realise it until recently, that I was choosing not to be happy. I knew that I was miserable, that I wasn’t settled and that change was getting the better of me and that I desperately didn’t want to be miserable but I never realised that I was doing it to myself. I missed my old life, my friends and my future that I had built for myself at netball and was intimidated by my new environment, scared by the very different type of person that I was encountering and disheartened by having to start all over again but I let that steal my happiness from me.
I wouldn’t say that I am totally settled yet, I am still getting to know how this community works, how the people live life and everyday I am having to pioneer my future all over again but I have to admit, with changed expectations and a new outlook on how I am going to do things, life has gotten much better. I am now relating to those around me with more ease, I hope that I am seen as more approachable and am seeing all my previous struggles as challenges – but the type of challenge that is looked at positively. I am willing to take on the tasks set ahead of me, willing to take the risk or discomfort and pain for the sake of my happiness and my future.
I am faced with a lot of pain in the world, I can see it in people’s eyes and hear it between the lines of their conversations but I am determined, that as I changed my expectations in life and brightened my life, that others might start doing the same.That the sweetness that now lives in my heart, will rest on those that I encounter. I heard a really nice analogy once; that sweet people are like a rose garden. After spending time in their presence, you leave with their aroma on you. I hope that with my new transformation of mind and heart, that I will become a rose garden to my community, that I will be able to give back some of the sweetness that I have found in myself since moving here.
This whole journey so far has taught me that life is truly just what you make it out to be; how you look at life and take on each day determines what you will get out of it. I have taken up the challenge and dare you to do the same; take a look into how you are seeing life, examine what your most frequent emotion is and change your expectations to give you more happiness. Don’t expect too much of yourself and those around you, be realistic.