a harvest story

Most of life is spent planting seeds. Planting seeds of faith, hope, joy and love. Planting seeds and praying they grow. Praying that someone waters them. Praying that the seeds fall on soft soil hearts. Beyond the initial planting and occasional watering and prayer we are removed from the growth process. But sometimes you get to experience the harvest and let me tell you harvest time is my favorite time!

After a long ten days being a camp counselor, I was tired. I loved each of my campers and was learning so much from them, but I was definitely doubting my influence. I was praying to be content with simply seed planting in my campers, trusting that God would do the watering. But then God decided to show off and let me be a part of another one of His incredible harvest stories.

“Let us not grow weary or lose heart in doing good, for in due time and at the appointed season we will reap a harvest if we do not grow weary.” Galatians 6:9

A friend sat us down and said we needed to share, so share we did. I told my story. She told hers. Our mutual brokenness quickly bonded us. She was vulnerable and real and the raw hurt of it all ran deep. But Jesus ran deeper. I could feel her pain, because her pain had been my pain a couple years ago. But that reminded me that my pain, our pain, is always His pain too. My heart broke for her, but His heart had been broken for us both because He loves His daughters that deeply. Just as I wished I could give this girl a glimpse of the complete freedom to come in surrendering everything to Christ, so the Lord desires to show us all that we have in Him. For everything I felt, He has felt it a million times over again for all of eternity.

In the simple act of sharing our stories with each other, His mighty healing power brought redemption beyond my imaginings. I, and then we, prayed freedom & hope over her in Jesus name and He delivered wildly. He lavished freedom upon her, because that’s just who He is. In His great love for this dear girl, He rained hope & grace & redemption on her. He set her feet upon the path to freedom and ignited the Spirit within her. The joy she suddenly had in the Lord was written across her face and it was beautiful. I was content. I was in awe.

As if that wasn’t enough, a few days ago I got a text from this sweet new God-friend, that reminded me again just how powerful our God is. I’m writing about it here, because I can’t help but brag on God. Only He can do things like this.

“I don’t even know what to say. I am so thankful that the Lord saved YOU and I hope you know how greatly you have changed my life with your story, encouragement, and truth. I will forever treasure the words you have spoken over me and that you have written. You have shown me for the first time what freedom and bravery look like and I am overflowing with hope and joy that I haven’t felt in SO long. After reading your letter I threw away my hidden self-harm blades which I NEVER thought I would be able to do. The Lord is working through you in mighty ways, Arden, and I hope you never doubt your influence because it is more powerful than you know. “

Yes, praise the LORD, you read that correctly. She threw them away. Those blades she kept hidden for times when she needed to inflict the depth of pain she felt inside. Those blades that had cut deeply into flesh with the hope of inflicting some kind of pain that might possibly mimic the intense self-hate she felt. The blades that were used when the voices got too loud and the hopelessness and worthlessness overwhelmed. She threw them away. She did what I couldn’t fully do for years and I’m in tears. I happy danced and happy-cried and gave thanks in my room, because GOD IS SO GOOD. He is mighty to save.

But she didn’t just throw away the blades she used to hurt herself. She threw away her old self that was coated in fear, shame and hopelessness from years of bondage to anxiety, depression and anorexia. She threw away the old and embraced the new that God offered. He had been patiently waiting for her to take the complete newness she received at her salvation. She took hold of hope and joy. She’s clinging to Truth in the face of lies. She’s throwing all kinds of chains off and dancing out in freedom.

She wrote “bravery is a choice” on her hand everyday for two weeks. But she did more than that. She actually made the choice to be brave. In throwing away what she had used to cope with pain & hopelessness & the devils lies, she chose brave. The enormity of that action still leaves me speechless. I don’t know if anyone who hasn’t experienced this kind of bondage can understand just how brave you have to be to make such a choice. She chose to believe the Truth when the lies where much easier to believe. She chose hope when most would choose hopelessness. She is BRAVE because she is choosing Jesus and He is always the bravest choice we can make. 

I could go on and on about this girl, this story, this God. But there are a few things I want you to take away from this story. First, and most importantly, GOD IS AWESOME. He deserves all honor and glory in everything, but especially in these moments. These moments where our lives are used by Him are beautiful. They are another opportunity to point back to Him who did all the work. We are just His instruments. I am simply an instrument in His complex orchestra. And I will praise Him forever for the opportunity to have a front row seat to see the way He works. Second, the Holy Spirit is real. He is alive and working within us and around us. I never want to forget how the Holy Spirit moved in this situation, how thickly he saturated every aspect of it. I pray I never forget that He’s working right this very moment. I pray I never cease being blown away by the power of the Spirit. Lastly, I want you to see the power of shared stories in the hands of the Author of life. God wrote your story and it needs to be read. You need to share it, because other people need to hear it. Others need to see living, breathing testimonies of God’s redemption. Sometimes it seems pointless, but as a wise Audrey once said “never doubt your influence.” Never doubt the impact your story can have on another’s story.

Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.  2 Corinthians 9:6-9

This girl blessed me more than she knows, because just as she was given hope through me, so was I given hope through her. It’s not everyday that I get to see this kind of fruit. Most days are seed planting days. But God throws in these joyful harvest days to remind us that we do not labor in vain and that He is constantly at work. Every smile, every word, every action are seeds planted, parts of the stories being written around you.

So I thought camp was seed planting season, but apparently God had other plans. Keep planting seeds in Jesus name. I promise God will blow you away when you get to experience the harvest moments and be a part of a joyful harvest story such as this one.

what brave looks like…

A young girl, barely a teen, yet carrying enough fears to last her a lifetime. Sitting in a lamp lit office clutching a pillow. The one way she hid. Time and time again. Week after week. Month after month. Sitting in her safe place. The one place where she could let her walls down and let herself be seen. The one place where she did not fear being vulnerable, being real, being honest. The one place where anxiety held no ground. She was not brave. She was tired and afraid. 

A couple years had passed since that initial visit. So much change and redemption had occurred. But her office remained my safe place.

Because years had passed and she had watched and guided me through them from her chair and her prayer, she knew the words I needed to hear.

Amidst my seemingly endless fear, she knew that I needed to be encouraged. I felt hopeless still, despite so much healing. I was discouraged and disheartened at my own anxiety, my own inability and weakness. I wanted to be strong. I wanted anorexia and its co-occurring “friends” to be in the past, but I couldn’t seem to shake them. Not entirely.
It was at the end of a session, amidst this season of wrestling for freedom, that she spoke Hope & Truth over me. She leaned in from her grey arm chair, looked me right in the eyes and said the words that are printed in leather on my wrist & in my heart: “Arden, this is what brave* looks like. This, this right here, this pain & struggle, is what brave looks like. You’re brave not because you don’t fear or fail, but because you are afraid and you have failed but you keep fighting.”

That struck me to the core and has stuck with me since. It’s truth, those words she spoke over me. And they’re the same words being spoken over all of us.

Because my brave isn’t that different than yours. My brave is giving thanks in every circumstance. My brave is smiling through disappointment and rejection. My brave is trying again when I fail. My brave is fighting for freedom when bondage and sin and fear and bitterness and despair and doubt are easier. My brave is giving up control and trusting God with my body, my future, my dreams, fears. My brave is doing what’s best for me even if other people don’t understand. My brave is being vulnerable and sharing the story that God has written with my life. My brave is standing secure in who Christ made me to be and claiming my inheritance in Him. My brave is choosing life. So you see, my brave really isn’t that different from yours.

Listen to me, YOU are brave too. That struggle you’re dealing with. That disappointment you feel. That grief that threatens to overwhelm. That fear that is debilitating. That sadness that numbs you to the world. It’s all part of what makes you brave, not what makes you afraid.

This is what brave looks like. I know that the moments we need to hear those words the most are the very moments where those words are the hardest for us to hear. In the midst of fear and failure the last thing we would ever call ourselves is brave, but let me tell you that is when you are most brave.

When you are at your lowest but choose to look up, that’s brave. When you examine who you are as a human and hate everything you see, but choose to give yourself grace, that’s brave. When you are afraid, but choose to step out in faith regardless, that’s brave. When you think God made a mistake with you, but choose to believe what He says about you, that’s brave.

The list could go on and on, but notice something about every statement above. It’s a choice. Bravery is a choice. You have to choose to be brave. It doesn’t just happen. It’s hard, messy work, but it’s worthy work.

So you who feels like you are the furthest thing from brave, hear me out. If you are choosing to keep fighting when surrender would be easier or choosing to endure danger** and pain when there is a safer option then, by definition, you are choosing brave. If you are choosing grace, love, and forgiveness when the world is telling you anger, and bitterness are more rewarding options, then you are choosing brave. I really believe that if you are wholeheartedly choosing JESUS and the life we have in Him through the cross then you are choosing BRAVE.

And that choice, that brave Jesus choice, leaves you a force to be reckoned with.

 

*brave: ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage

**danger: the possibility of something unwelcome or unpleasant

 

 

 

when you ask me “how’s college?”…

…I’ll probably answer any or all of the statements below…

It’s great. It’s awesome. It’s been the best year yet. It’s been bursting at the seams with opportunity and growth. It’s a been a tiring, exciting whirlwind that I’d do all over again and it’s just beginning.

…but not for the typical reasons…the best party I went to was a welcome home party thrown at the  campus ministry retreat and the best drink I had this year was some kombucha tea from Frothy Monkey and the best (only?) “date” I had was to my social club’s formal where we awkwardly danced to rap songs I’d never heard before…

…these, these people and more, are the reasons why I loved my freshman year…

I’ve seen God orchestrate in ways that still leave me in awe. From the very beginning God’s hand was in my decision to go to Lipscomb and as my aunt says, “there couldn’t have been a more perfect place for you!” When I walked into my dorm on move in day I was a little afraid. Definitely nervous excitement. Here I am 1,000 miles away from home moving in with 7 other girls that I’ve only texted. But that suite, suite 212, became home and those girls I didn’t know became like family. They became the people I laughed with and teased. The girls I was the most silly and stupid with (like when I laughed hysterically on Laurel’s bed for at least 5 solid minutes at NOTHING  or stepped on a prized 5 Daughter’s doughnut or talked about my nutrition stuff while they, with permission, pretended to listen), but never got any judgement (okay maybe some, haha). They thoroughly supported my obsession with nut butters and didn’t laugh at my dorky pajamas. We talked about some WEIRD things, but man did I learn a lot from these girls hearts, minds and humors.

I met Jess at a prayer breakfast and we immediately bonded over our passion for food & people & Jesus (what’s a better combination, right?). She taught me about Christ-centered community and gratitude with her faithful presence and prayer, her inclusivity to a girl three years younger (this includes Claire and Jenn too for their welcome in 306 rain or shine – much love), her constant quest for more of HIM by giving thanks in all things. She’s inspired me to go after the things I’m passionate about and showed me what it means to truly have a heart for ALL of God’s people.

Audrey was my mentor and is now also a dear dear friend. She can’t really be summed up, but God sure has shown me intentional friendship through her. He showed me more of Himself through her sacrifice of time to get to know a random girl that campus ministry paired her with. He showed me through Audrey what stepping out in faith looks like, the beauty of praying together and the power that is a young woman who says YES to the Holy Spirit’s leading even when it scares you to death (BOLDNESS!).

God did some fancy footwork to make Olivia and I spill our guts in the student center, but once we did, well, I guess you could say it was instant sisterhood. Our stories parallel each others and have given us a bond that is a serious blessing. God has taught me the power of vulnerability through her. I’ve seen how important openness and honesty are. She has been a constant source of compassion, gentleness and encouragement this past semester.

Allie and Alleah are two that show me how important it is to just be with people and how God can work in the coolest ways when we say yes to people. They both have a knack at finding adventure and humor in all of life. I’d like to be more like them.

Brooke, Brookie-cookie as Instagram knows her, is one strong young woman and my friend. She fights harder than most and teaches me what serious perseverance through the Refiner’s fire looks like. She dances through her mourning to the beat of Jesus’ drum and it’s a truly beautiful sight to behold.

One can’t leave out the one who is both friend, sister, chaplain and mom-away-from-mom. Few people can mother me because I’m the designated “mom figure” in most of my friend groups, but Heather is a different story. She listens and calms me down and doesn’t judge me (pledge week, sorry !) and gives awesome hugs. She loves so expressively you can’t miss it (you can’t really miss someone who’s sitting on your lap hehe). You can’t feel unloved in her presence, because she oozes love. Actually, I think that’s the best description of her, she oozes love and joy and presence and exuberance and that’s all because Jesus has set her free and she lives bravely in that. Don’t ever graduate, okay!

To my pledge class, you guys are the best. I don’t really have any words. I love how much fun we had together and how much fun we will have in the next few years. Lipscomb is a better place for having each of you on its campus.

And Charlotte, she’s a friend I didn’t know I needed. God has shown me what it means to be inclusive and welcoming to people (an area I’m not strong in). She’s showed me what it looks like to take the verse “love your neighbor as yourself” and run with it into all different camps of people. She loves well. She listens well. She sees the people that might be on the sidelines and brings them into the game. She thinks hard and laughs often and she sure is teaching me a lot even if she doesn’t know it.

God worked in my spur of the moment decision to awkwardly introduce myself in the Campus Ministry office, where I met some great people (hey Caroline & Cyrus!) that have encouraged and befriended me. I didn’t know then, but that introduction led to relationships with new friends, opportunities to serve my peers on campus and lead a focus chapel that both greatly challenged and encouraged me.

Everyone who smiled at me, hugged me, laughed with (at?) me, pledged with me, danced with me, ate Jeni’s ice cream with me, partied in the library & played in the snow with me, listened to me & basically was a part of my life, made this year a great start.

So when you ask me “how’s college?” I’ll probably respond with a quick statement, but that’s only because the answer simply can’t be explained  without meeting and knowing the amazingly beautiful, passionate people I was blessed enough to do freshman year with.

p.s. you’re welcome for saving you from having to sit through me talk about every. single. AWESOME person/part of freshman year 😉