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Who Am I?

This is a long overdo introduction post. I’ve been writing this blog for a few months now, but I want to be more than just someone behind a computer screen. One of my main goals for this blog is to be real and honest with people because it just might help someone who is going through something similar to me.

So who am I?

First and foremost, I am a daughter of God. My faith is the foundation on which I build the rest of my identity on. I strive everyday to have my faith ooze from every action that I make. Sometimes that happens, and other days it doesn’t. But my God is a God of grace and mercy. When I stumble, He helps me stand back up and continue walking forward. My spiritual identity shapes what I think, feel, and ultimately who I am.

Secondly, I am a daughter, a sister, and a cousin. My family can be loud and overwhelming, but I love them to death. They are my security and my safety. I know that I am not judged by them and will always be loved. My brothers are some of my best friends. My little cousins always make me laugh and I adore them.

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Next, I am a nerd. I blame it on my parents who raised me on movies like Star Wars since I was young. I also tend to blame it on the fact that I am introverted. For a long time, I prefer my books and TV shows to actual people. I promise that I’ve gotten better at that thanks to my friends who are often equally nerdy, even though who claim that they are not.

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I am an athlete, and I have been for the majority of my life. I grew up swimming competitively. Now, I race triathlons and run half marathons. I tend to be very intense about my races as my roommate so awesomely captured in the picture below. Triathlons and other endurance sports push me to my absolute limits and show me exactly what I am made of. It is an experience like no other, and I never get tired of standing at the start line in order to cross the finish line.

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I am a friend. My friends become part of my family. By now, my mom has like 10+ second daughters. Honestly, my friends are the sisters that I wish I had. I don’t know where I would be without any of them. And I would drop everything to be at their side in a moment if they needed me. IMG_3950

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I am goofy-well, really, my whole family is goofy. I love to laugh, and my family is notorious for making funny faces in pictures. Life is never boring in our house. We live our life with no regrets and work to enjoy every moment that we’ve been blessed with. IMG_3978

I am an adventurer and like to think that I am fearless. I love trying new things that challenge or scare me. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to fly a small plane. It was one of the coolest experiences of my life. I am an adrenaline junkie and anything from rollercoasters to cliff jumping is my kind of activity.  IMG_4011

I am a writer. I know this one is probably an obvious one. I mean I am writing a blog. But writing is something that keeps me sane. It gives me a chance to escape my life and enter a different world. It’s part of why I love reading so much. IMG_5335

Finally, I love to dance, well swing dance. Anything else takes a lot to get me on the dance floor. It takes a lot of trust to swing dance especially as a girl. We are completely in the hands of our partner and we have to read and trust the signals that they give us. It has taught me to trust and rely on someone in a different way that normal life could’ve. The more I swing dance, the more I understand and like the idea of one day dancing through life with someone. IMG_4842IMG_4921

That’s a few things about me that I hope give you a better picture of who this girl is behind the computer screen. We are only four months into this adventure and I’ve been loving every second of it. Hope you are enjoying it as well.

If there is anything you want to see on the blog, comment below. I would love to hear from you.

The Impossible

Today in church one of our other pastors spoke because our senior pastor is out of town. I love my senior pastor, but I also enjoy these few weeks when we get to hear from our other pastors. Pastor Matt got to speak today, and we spent the service in Ephesians 4:25-32 with an emphasis on Forgiveness.

When we first started, I figured okay this was cool, but not super applicable to me right now. I know that you shouldn’t hold grudges or be angry towards someone. I grew up learning to say “I forgive you” even if you didn’t feel it.

But about halfway through, I realized how wrong I was in assuming it wasn’t applicable. In typical God fashion when he deals with my know-it-all attitude, he gently reminded me of some unforgiveness in my life which had without my conscious knowledge had turned into bitterness and anger to someone who used to mean a lot to me.

Sitting in church, I realized that a situation that I thought was resolved really wasn’t. The actions of the person had hurt me, and I hadn’t forgiven him. My frustration and anger at him festered in my heart, and I wanted nothing to do with him in my life. I knew I should forgive him, but I didn’t want to simply because he hadn’t asked me for forgiveness. I figured that I wasn’t doing anything wrong, but I really was. I was holding all this anger and bitterness at someone instead of loving and showing the love of God in my actions.

This realization all can to a head when our pastor, Pastor Matt, said that forgiveness is not a feeling, but it is an action. You don’t forgive people because we feel like it. We forgive because that is the command that God has given us. When we forgive and obey, the feelings come.

And sometimes, forgiveness feels impossible. Someone may have wronged you in a way that took something that you will never get back. You lost a relationship. But despite the hurt that you may feel, forgiveness is vital. In those moments when forgiveness feels impossible, God gives a way. It is through his strength that we forgive. And we forgive because He showed us such incredible forgiveness in the sacrifice of His Son on the cross.

So despite how bitterness may feel or unforgiveness may feel, we must forgive in we are to keep our Christian community healthy and to keep our spiritually life healthy. I still struggle with it, but I pray that everyday, I get a little better at it.

Check out Matthew West’s song Forgiveness.

Open Hands, Open Hearts

Recently, it seems like the constant theme in my life is that God can give and He can take. And boy, does He take sometimes painfully. The thing is, it hasn’t been just in my own life. I’ve watched several friends recently go through this idea in order to learn that we need to hold things with open hands. It seems like a good time to address the topic, because it tends to be something that we avoid in favor of clinging to the idea that the Christian life is one of just blessings.

One of my favorite verses is Romans 8:28. Paul reminds the believers of all the great things that God is doing for those who love him.

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (NKJV)

Hold up! Paul is saying that all things are working together for the good of those who love God. Sign me up! This sounds great, right? But in reality, this is a tough life. The verse says all things-the good and the bad things-are working for the good of us. So bad things end up being good. Anyone else confused? I know I was when I first started thinking about this. How can something that seems bad end up being something good?

It can when God is the one directing things. God has a very different perspective on things. He happens to see the big picture, while often times, we only see the chaos and hurt of the moment. What seems like a terrible things is really God gently withholding something that is not what is best for us. It is similar to the way a parent disciplines a child. A child may want a piece of candy, but a parent says no. The child only sees the no, not the ice cream sundae that is waiting for them after they eat dinner. We are the child; we see only the no. And God is the parent; He see the amazing ice cream sundae that is waiting for us when we are patient and wait just a little bit longer.

We may think that God is taking something away from us, but in reality, He is getting ready to give us something even better.

So how do we approach life if we don’t know what God will take and what he may give?

We approach with open hands and open hearts.

God wants us to dream and make plans, but He also has a perfect plan for us. Sometimes, we deviate from God’s plan. This is when it can get painful, and when it can start to feel like God is just break us and take away everything.

But when we start to approach life with open hands and open hearts, these moments are suddenly less painful. Instead of clutching our dreams and desires tightly to our chest, we hold them with open hands up towards heaven. With open hearts that are tuned to God’s, we offer our open hands to Him in worship.

Instead of planning what we want to in order to further ourselves and clutching them to our chests, something shifts and with open hearts we begin to dream and plan with open hands to further God’s kingdom. By submitting our desires and plans to God, our hearts are shaped in the way that God wants.

I am no expert on this idea. I still find myself clutching my plans and desires to my chest, but God is the ever patient and loving father and gently reminds me to let go so He can give me something better. God has my best interest, and I just need to learn to hold up my dreams and plans with open hands instead of clutching them to my chest.

To my friend shipping out to boot

My sweet friend,

You are leaving soon to start the adventure of a lifetime. Ironically, our friendship began because we were both interested in the same adventure, but today, only one of us will be doing it. My life has taken me on a different path, but one that is no less exciting. I can’t wait until we can both look back and be happy about the things we have accomplished.

God has crafted a beautiful plan for you, and it will be through trust that you begin to experience it. But it will be the hard work coupled with trust and faith that will get you through. The next eight weeks are going to be hard, and there may be days that you feel like giving up. Remember in those moments all that you’ve worked to accomplished and all the work you’ve already put it. Rely on God in those moments that it seems like you are just being beat down instead of being built up.

It’s a mental game. You are stronger than you think, and your company commanders are just trying to uncover that strength in order to harness it and create a strong link for the team. You are doing this because you want to, and because you desire to find that same strength inside of you.

The day you get to boot, you are a different person. The things that you thought defined you here at home don’t anymore. Those words that hurt no longer matter. You will prove them wrong, and you are going to blow everyone away.

I will be praying everyday for your journey and that God covers you and fills you with incredible strength. And I can’t wait to see all the amazing things you are going to accomplish once you put that uniform on. You have a team cheering you on, and if you are ever in the area, you will have a home and a second family that will welcome you.

Fair Winds and Following Seas.

With much love for my sister-in-Christ,

Bethany

Joy of the Lord

In my personal quiet time, I’ve been working my way through Philippians which is one of my all time favorite books of the Bible. I didn’t always know why I was drawn to it, but this time around I realized why. It’s because I can related to where Paul is coming from when he’s writing it. Ok, so I’m not in prison because of what I believe and my life isn’t being threatened, but I have experienced very real religious persecution.

I know that there are some naysayers out there who because my life was never threatened, they don’t believe I’ve truly experienced religious persecution. I would never say that what I experienced is the worst time of religious persecution, but it was persecution nonetheless.

Philippians has never seemed more relateable, but it also has never seemed more challenging.

Paul doesn’t start out nice and easy, trying to ease his readers into what he has to say. No, instead he reminds his readers that what he has gone through is for the furtherance of the gospel. And then he says that “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Wait, what? And he’s writing this letter from jail!

But Paul is spot on attitude-wise when he speaks about joy and thanksgiving despite your circumstances. God is working in every situation, even in those that we don’t see him in. Paul promises that “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

What is possessing Paul to write this things? He is literally in the worst situation imaginable, but through it he is praising the Lord. How?

It’s simple and complex at the same time.

Paul is an example of the joy of the Lord.

The Joy of the Lord. Seems simple right? Break it down and you get: Joy that is from the Lord. Sounds great. I want some of that.

But I’ve found that often times you don’t realize you have the joy of the Lord until the trials start. It is often hard to see the joy of the Lord on the mountaintop when life is going good. But that is also the easiest place to have the joy of the Lord. When things are going good, we don’t question God and we praise him without much effort because we are being tested. Life seems good and God seems to be present in our life.

But the place that joy is most needed is in those dark valleys that we hit soon after that mountaintop experience.

For me, I hit a valley that was nearly a year and a half long. I attended a secular university for my first two years of college. During that time, I faced discrimination and persecution for my personal beliefs. My hard work was rendered useless because I believed in a different theory on the origin of life and because I believed in God. While it was a hard time for me to go through, especially because I was on the other side of the country from my home, it was a spiritually rich time.

I experienced the joy and thanksgiving that Paul spoke about in Philippians. I knew that God was working in my life and in my situation. There was a joy that I could not explain. On the days that I thought I had reached the darkest part of my situation, there was suddenly this light that would shine through and a gentle reminder of the joy I can find in God.

Now, I’ve spoken a lot about joy. I don’t mean happiness. There is a difference between the two. Happiness tends to be circumstantial while joy goes beyond circumstance and is a heart attitude. Many days, I had to make a choice to find the good in a situation or seek out God’s peace. But it changed everything, when I discovered this joy which became a strength to get me through.

Things that use to bother me didn’t anymore. I could see God’s fingerprints in everything around me, even in the hardest situations. God was walking alongside me, and he was teaching me to trust in him and find my joy in him instead of my circumstances. It’s the joy of the Lord, not the joy of self. For me, I often found it in the midst of trials and in the midst of valleys.

One of my favorite songs became my anthem during this time. The song “Joy of the Lord” by Rend Collective talks about this idea of when you find that joy, you have the strength to press on.

Whether you are in a trial right now, just got out of one, or feel like you are about to enter one, remember to find the joy of the Lord. He wants us to have it, we just have to come with the right heart attitude. It’s not going to make everything golden, but it will give you His amazing strength.

We Don’t Have To Agree

At the risk of some people getting upset with me, I am going to brave this rather uncomfortable subject. Most people would rather mumble it or just avoid talking about it. That’s right the t-word.

Tolerance

This is a hot button topic right now, especially in regards to human rights. Now, let’s be clear. I am all for tolerance, especially when it comes to how people are treated. Every person on this planet deserves respect and dignity because let’s face it we are all humans. About to get real sciency here for a moment, hang on. At the very root of who we are, our species is the same regardless of what part of the world we or our ancestors are from. We are all, say it with me, Homo sapiens. Some of you may be like, homo what now. Homo sapiens.  This is the genus and the species that humans belong to. It’s Latin, and the cool thing is that it translates to “wise man”. Cool right?!? Clearly I’m a bit of a nerd, blame the science background.

Anyways, now that we got our species established as being the same whether you live in California (like me) or you live in South Africa or you live in India or you live in Indonesia…or any place else in the world, we can move on to being tolerant.

First of all let’s establish the definition of tolerance. According to dictionary.com, tolerance is:

a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, beliefs, practices, racial or ethnic origins, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.

That sounds good. I like that. Basically is someone likes pizza and you like tacos, you need to accept that they like pizza. Except now, let’s put that on a bigger scale. If someone is Muslim and you are atheist, you need to accept that they believe something different than you. Just like me as a Christian understands and accepts that a Muslim has different beliefs than me. Now, I may not agree, but I’m not going to go around and treat them like they are less than human because that is not fair.

The definition of tolerance does not state that you must agree with the person to be tolerant of them. If you agree with the person there isn’t an issue. Tolerance is looking beyond yourself and realizing that everyone is a person and deserves to be treated as such regardless of their views.

Now a note for my Christian readers: I am not saying that within the Christian community we should be tolerant of each other’s sin. In that case if the person is a Christian and is sinning, the Bible is very clear that we are to lovingly confront them as it is laid out in Matthew 18. I’m talking about when you and the other person are not in the same religion, racial group, political group, etc.

If I am talking to someone about something and they disagree and then start to put me down, this is not tolerance. Now, if I am talking with someone about something that they disagree on, but they still treat me like a person–that is tolerance.

We don’t have to agree with everyone to get along. We just need to be kind and respectful of other people. We all have opinions and sometimes they differ, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get along.

Not Lost, Just Taking the Scenic Route

Most people go to college (or university) with a bunch of different ideas of what they want to do after graduation. They take classes to figure out what they like and what they don’t like. And three to four years down the road, they graduate with a degree in a field that they discovered they like (hopefully). I also know people who did not do the college thing, but after high school graduation found a job that they just fell in love with. But in both of these cases, people narrowed down their choices of what they wanted to do-starting from a lot of choice and ending with only one.

However, I was the complete opposite. Since sixth grade, every action and basically everything I did was because I already knew what my dream job was. I knew what I wanted to do so I made choices to support that. Yes, I also am majoring in a degree that I love. It was a huge blessing that I loved the subject I needed to study in school for my dream job. But in the last three months, God has taken that dream job away from me. I talked about that in my post Letting Go. Now, I suddenly have a million different options (not really, but it feels like it) and I want to do all of them. It seems like everyday, a new idea or option comes up.

But the reality is that I won’t be able to do all of these. Nor would it be smart to try to do all of them because something would have to give. So how do I figure out what I am going to do with my future. Which of these amazing options are the best for me to pursue?

When everything went down with God taking away my dream job in one of my many conversations with my mom, I realized something. My dream job was my dream job because I would be helping people. Serving in the Coast Guard would help my local community while also serving my country. It was the best of both worlds. I could provide hope for people and be there when they needed me. So I realized that my dream job was actually helping people not serving in the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard was just one avenue to that. What took me nearly eleven years to figure out only took other people a year or so to figure out about me.

I’ve been blessed to have gone to small Christian schools through high school. In middle school, I had this amazing science teacher who I can’t even begin to thank for everything he did for me. Not only did we learn science in the classroom, but we went on some pretty sweet field trips. I was already in love with the ocean, but when this teacher took us to Catalina Island for science camp, I knew that I had found my home away from home. Now, why am I telling you this?

Because this science teacher discovered something about me that at the time I didn’t even know about myself. In fact, only yesterday did I put two and two together. When it came time for me to move to high school, he gave me one of those soft cover picture books that also had information. Mine was all about the different rescue services that exist around the world. Everything from lifeguards to the Coast Guard. To this day, I still have it.

Yesterday, I was going through my bookshelves and stumbled on this book. I hadn’t thought about it for a while. I flipped open the cover, and there was a short note from my teacher about why he gave me this book. The jist of the note was that he knew that whatever I did with my life, it would involve helping people.

Hold up…Back it up…

My middle school science teacher knew that I would help people because it was ingrained in my character. Even I didn’t know that. Remember how I said that only recently did I realize that my dream job was helping people.

So despite no longer have one clear path, I know that helping people and serving them is my end goal. And I want to thank that teacher for recognizing that even in the quiet, weird eighth grade Bethany. Because yesterday, your words gave me the confirmation that I didn’t really know I was looking for.

While I don’t know what my job title or official description will be after I graduate, I know that the unofficial description will involving helping those in my community and those around me who need help. And I may not know exactly how I am going to get there, I know that as long as I trust and keep walking, the path through the trees will get clearer. One day, I will emerge from the forest to the place where God has appointed for me to go.