The Cusp of Change

The first few weeks of summer have been a whirlwind of events. I went to Scotland, I am preparing for Royal Family Kids Camp (see my posts about them here and here), the MCAT, my study abroad experience for this fall, and to top it off I’m trying to squeeze in some work and volunteering. I just realized that my early 20’s will be flooded with change, more than I’ve ever experienced. As a person who is comfortable with consistency and routine, all of these upcoming life events are completely overwhelming to me. I think God is using this point in my life to challenge me: Am I going to rely on self-sufficiency or trust in God?

While my inner self feels a need to exert my independence and take control of this period of change, I know that I need to work through this cognitive dissonance and rely on God to lead me through this season. At this point in my life, I don’t really view God as this all-controlling being. I think God allows us to use our free will to make decisions about our lives. However, when making these decisions especially in these new situations, I don’t want to ignore God—I hope that I can recognize God walking through life with me. It’s so easy for me to outline my future: I want to study abroad, finish school, go to medical school, establish a career, have a family, etc. Now that I am on the brink of so much change—change that could drastically alter my path in life for the next few years— I need to take a step back and be honest with myself. Am I doing this for myself or for God’s glory?

I have been thinking about these upcoming life events, and I do believe that this plan is what God is calling me to do. I think, more importantly, I need focus on integrating daily prayer into my life. I want to be intentional with these changes in my life and ask key questions for each new situation. Who do you want me to meet, God? What am I supposed to gain from this change? How are my experiences going to help me make Earth more like Heaven?

I can’t be swept away by the idea of change in the future. It all is so uncertain, and no matter how these changes affect my future, I want to make sure that I am living my life for God first and foremost. I trust that God can use my passions and strengths to do good. On this cusp of change, I hope that I can rely less on myself and instead trust that God is leading through these new periods of my life.

 

Lots of love,

Hannah

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My Thoughts on Evangelization

Evangelization. As Jesus’ followers, we are called to share the Gospel message with others.

“Go and make disciples of all nations” Matthew 28:19

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” Mark 16:15

“Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

I will be real with you all. The idea of evangelization terrifies me. There are so many friends in my life who aren’t Christians, and I truly do want them to experience the peace and joy that comes with having a relationship with God. However, I’m weary of bringing up the subject of faith because I don’t want to come off as preachy and make it appear as if I know all things about religion. I don’t. I have so many questions that I need to work out myself, but I believe there is a God who created this world and that he sent Jesus as a living sacrifice for our sins. For a long time, I have been praying for God to help me be brave in sharing the Gospel with others, but I have still been uncomfortable with the idea.

However, I was talking to some of my friends the other day, and they gave me some encouragement that I would love to share with you. They opened my eyes to a few key ideas. One, evangelization is not solely a verbal recitation of the Gospel to someone. In fact, when you look at Jesus in the Gospel, sure he preached, but he also spent so much time in community–building relationships, serving, and loving every member in society. Jesus spread the Gospel through both his words and actions. For such a long time, I had never considered my actions as a way to evangelize, but now I realize that for me, the best way to spread the Gospel is to live the Gospel.

If I go around preaching Gospel messages to love one another, to treat others with dignity and respect, or to put others above oneself, but my actions don’t correlate with my words, people won’t be receptive of Christianity. They will just see that I’m a hypocrite. However, if I live my life with love, peace, patience (all those good fruits of the spirit), maybe my friends or coworkers will notice that I try to live my life differently. That could lead to questions about why I live my life the way I do, which could open up a conversation about faith.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that evangelization varies from person to person. It may involve words or actions, but is not the door-to-door preaching image that I once had in my mind. The final thing I realized by talking with my friends is that my job as a disciple is spread the Gospel message. The process of conversion, however, is up to God. I don’t have the power to convert anyone; that is God’s power.

I hope that this is a little bit of encouragement for any of you who also have people in your life who are either not religious or Christian that you want to share the Gospel message with. I’m just trying to evangelize like Jesus did. Be friends with them. Build trust with them. Love them. That is the gospel, folks.

Lots of love,

Hannah

Solidarity Amidst Our Fractured Society

Week one of college done. As the Script would sing, “I’m still alive, but I’m barely breathing.” It’s true. I’m taking a tough course load, and I’m super involved on campus. My life is insanely busy, but it’s so fulfilling. Anyways, at the college’s opening Mass, I found out that my school’s theme for the year is solidarity. Honestly, what a perfect theme to reflect upon this year, especially when the world seems so chaotic and fragmented. I was lucky enough to be able to attend a lecture called “Solidarity in a Time of Bias, Hate, and Violence,” and it opened my eyes to the fact that so much work needs to be done in order to create unity in our communities.

The presenters challenged us to think of solidarity as more than just unity. It demands each individual to commit oneself to the common good. Solidarity stresses justice for all and reiterates that humans were designed by God to be interdependent. Our society tries to marginalize individuals based on our differences and brainwashes people into believing that each person can thrive autonomously. Solidarity fights against society’s structural sins through self-sacrifice and care for the poor and vulnerable.

Later on, the lecturers stated that bringing solidarity into communities begins with a change in the mindset of each individual. I, myself, need to take a step back and notice my surroundings. Sometimes hate, bias, and violence are so embedded in society that it is hard to notice it if I don’t proactively look for it. It’s not enough just to acknowledge the terrible things that are happening in this world. I want to be part of the solution. How can I better incorporate justice, service, and solidarity into my daily life? Even on campus, how can I help create a more inclusive, welcoming community?

I may not have the answers to these questions yet, but the theme of solidarity is so thought-provoking. After all, as Christians, we are supposed to be one body in Christ. We need to be the ones who see the similarities in each individual, rather than separate ourselves based on our differences. At the end of the day, we are all human beings deserving of love, dignity, and justice. Imagine if members of society truly lived in solidarity with one another. What a wonderful world it would be. It’s not impossible, and I’m going to do my part to make solidarity a reality.

Lots of love,
Hannah

Tapping Into God’s Unconditional Love–RFKC 2016

This week, I was a counselor at Royal Family Kids Camp, and it was challenging, heartbreaking, and life-changing. Since this was my third year being involved with RFK, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into, but I was clearly wrong. Leading up to camp, I kept praying that God would allow me to give 100% to my camper, and He honored that. I have never been so exhausted, yet filled with joy. The team that I worked with, those praying for me, and God’s strength gave me the ability to get through this week. By the end of this week, I left with a better understanding of the unconditional love that God has for all of us.

Royal Family for us staff began on Sunday. After attending church, we drove to the campsite, unloaded, and decorated our cabins in order to fit this year’s Olympic theme. That evening, I finally found out who my camper was going to be. I pretty much only knew her name and that she was 9, none of her temperaments (for the safety and confidentiality of my camper, I’m only going to refer to her as “my camper”). I knew I was going in blind, but that didn’t matter to me. I was just so excited for Monday to come so that I could finally meet her. That night we all walked over to the lake in order to pray and do a devotional. In the midst of this beautiful nature, everyone could feel God’s presence. While at the lake, one of our staff members decided to be baptized, which was amazing. I have never seen a baptism like this. It was beautiful just seeing him declare his life to Christ while having his new RFK family there to support him. What was even cooler was that later a random woman saw us gathered on the beach and asked if she could be baptized. If that wasn’t a God moment, I don’t know what is. So we had two baptisms that evening. That night, I went to sleep knowing that this is God’s camp. He is orchestrating this whole thing. I knew that he had hand picked my camper, and I was so excited to finally meet her.

On Monday as the coach bus rolled in, we all stood outside with posters with each of the campers names on them in order to welcome our 24 precious princes and princesses. Each child had varying emotions as they stepped off of the bus–excitement, a little bit of fear, maybe nothing at all. When my camper walked off the bus, I was filled with such joy! I just couldn’t wait to get to know this precious girl! What I didn’t know was that behind that beautiful face was a girl with a broken heart.

Even though the week was filled with fun events, such as Grandma’s Tea Party, Everybody’s Birthday Party, and the Variety show, she struggled throughout the entire week. My camper loved being the center of attention and being in control. When she couldn’t have her ways, she ran around or ran away. So the whole week, I was on high alert because if I turned away for one minute, she could have been out the door running somewhere else. In addition, pretty much everyday, she had some sort of of meltdown over something small– she wasn’t picked to dance on stage, someone else took her spot, etc. These weren’t the real reasons for the meltdowns. In actuality, she was dealing with past heartbreaks. She hasn’t seen her birth parents in three years, and she yearns for them, even though they must have done something terrible enough to get her taken out of that family in the first place. What probably intensified her behaviors was the fact that she and three of her other siblings are currently up for adoption at the end of this month. You think that adoption would be a good thing– finally a being taken out of foster care and being placed into a stable home, hopefully. However, I think that to my camper, adoption means never seeing her birth parents again.

Most of the week was exhausting. My camper looked so downtrodden. She constantly told me how she didn’t like this camp, and she tried to hide any emotion whatsoever. God gave we such unwavering patience with her, though. He gave me the strength to just be there for her. And the thing is by day two, I had so much love for my camper. It didn’t matter that she was constantly wandering away, acting sassy, or having a meltdown. I was her rock, and I owe that all to God. The beautiful thing was that behind her act, I could tell that she really cared for me too. She would always be asking, “Where’s my counselor?,” and she would ask me to race her up the rock wall or to dance the Whip and Nae Nae with her at the talent show. My favorite moments with her, though, were when we were at the lake. That girl loved to swim; I think it was therapeutic for her. Together, we would swim “all over the world”– to Florida, Illinois, Australia even. She also loved using her goggles to grab sand at the bottom of the lake. We would look at the sand together and find all sorts of neat rocks and shells. In the water, she would open up, not about her past, but about her interests and school and just normal things.

Friday, when we were back at church, was the hardest part for me. It was beautiful to see my camper singing the songs she learned at camp up onstage. Normally she is hogging the stage for attention, but that afternoon, she was just singing and dancing next to her best friend that she made at camp. What made it worse was when I saw a couple of tears escape her eyes during the closing ceremony. That was confirmation to me that she actually cared about me too. Saying goodbye was the hardest. I thought that her future parents were going to pick her and her siblings up, but some random lady that the girls didn’t even know picked them up instead. That made me so upset because I wanted to meet the people that were planning on adopting her just to see if they seemed loving and safe. I guess we don’t always get what we want. Eventually, my camper and I said our final goodbyes. Tears were shed by both of us, and I just kept telling her how much I loved her and how I would be praying for her. Then just like that, she was gone.

I truly believe that God matched my camper and me together. Even though I have a huge heart, I am emotionally strong, and I think that allowed me to be so consistent and composed around my camper. My camper has shown me how to love and persevere way beyond what I thought I could do. That little girl–who is so brave, smart, caring, helpful, and charismatic– now will forever have a piece of my heart. I just have to trust God that He will keep her safe and that He will use her to do amazing things. I could go on and on about camp, but this post is already so long. Camp was amazing and life-changing. It challenged me probably more than I’ve ever been challenged, but I had a great group of people to support me along the way. I pray that I will be able to keep attending Royal Family Kids Camps for many years to come.

Lots of love,
Hannah

Daily Devotional: The Woman at the Well

On most days, I delve into the Scriptures in some form. Sometimes, I follow a devotional from shereadstruth.com; other times I just pick passages from the Bible to read. On certain days, the passages really speak to me, or I find them pertinent to my life right now. When those passages come up, I usually journal and reflect about it, but then I thought, why don’t I share my thoughts with you all? Perhaps you would like to read these verses and reflect on them as well.

Currently, I am gearing up to go to Royal Family Kids Camp, a camp for abused and neglected foster children. In order to prepare my heart for the week, I am praying through the Bible verses that will with shared with the kids at camp. The passage that spoke to me recently was the Woman at the Well/ The Samaritan Woman. If you aren’t familiar with that story, it can be found in John 4: 4-42. After reading these verses, I had three main takeaways that can help me grow closer to God, as well as help my campers get to know God.

Jesus Breaks Stereotypes

Jesus amazes me because he spread the Gospel to anyone–from lepers, to adulterers, to women. He knew the people who needed his love the most, and he didn’t let anyone stop him from doing that, even if it was outside the cultural norms of the time. In this case, Jesus talks to a Samaritan woman. One, most Jews wanted nothing to do with Samaritans (why, I’m not quite sure). Two, during this era, most men didn’t speak to women, especially not in public. The fact that Jesus took time to have a genuine conversation with this woman demonstrates how his love has no boundaries. He wants everyone to believe that he is the Messiah and that God is their Heavenly Father. For my kids at camp, they might not think that Jesus could ever love a foster child, but I want to show them that their thoughts are wrong. Jesus is unconventional. He wants everyone to drink his “living water”.

You Don’t Have to be Perfect for God to Use You

Many of the campers that we encounter have no hope and no self esteem. At such young ages, they are brainwashed into thinking that there is no bright future for them, that they aren’t important, and that they aren’t valued. These lies constantly bombard these children’s minds, but Jesus eradicates all of this false information. You do not need to be perfect in order to have a bright future and for God to use you for a greater good. The woman in this passage has had five husbands. She clearly did not have the ideal life, but she believed that Jesus was the Messiah. She was able to use her encounter to testify to other members of the community, making them believers as well. I want my campers to know (and anyone who reads this to know) that if they are willing to obey God, He will use them for something great no matter how broken or unqualified they feel.

Jesus is the Only Thing that Satisfies

I think it’s ingrained in our human nature to constantly be searching for something– searching for more money, more happiness, a better job, a bigger house, a better relationship, etc. I fall into this trap too. I make idols of what I believe will truly satisfy me. I work insanely hard at school so that I can get a good career and become financially stable. Others may make idols of relationships or material goods. The campers at Royal Family come from unstable backgrounds. As a result, they might turn to gangs, drugs, alcohol, or abusive relationships in order to feel “happy”. The moral of this passage is clear, though. Jesus is the only thing that will ever quench our thirst. If we fix our eyes on the things of this world, we will always be thirsty. Jesus is the only thing that will truly satisfy.

I’m sure there is so much more to say about this passage, but these were the main points that I felt God was telling me from this passage. What are your thoughts on the passage? I would love to know in the comments!

Lots of love,

Hannah

Make Moments Matter

God has really being reminding me lately that life is short, sometimes drastically shorter than we can ever prepare for. Earlier this year, God showed me this when a boy I went to high school with passed away unexpectedly. I wasn’t good friends with him, but we had three classes together senior year. It’s still weird knowing that he isn’t here anymore. Just a few days ago, two guys who went to my college drowned after powerful waves knocked them off of a pier. That really shook me. Again, I didn’t personally know them, but when you go to a small school, tragedies like this impact everyone.

I can’t quite wrap my head around the whole thing. Both the boy from high school and the two guys from my college would have never expected their lives to be so short. It’s incredibly easy to just assume that we will wake up each morning, be safe during the day, and continue to live at least into our 80’s. God has been challenging me, though, to change this mindset.

To be honest, I’m so future focused that I assume I’ll graduate college, get married, have kids, find my dream job, and so on. I’m not guaranteed any of that, though. The fact of the matter is, this world is full of sickness, war, violence, and freak accidents. I might not get tomorrow, so I need to truly be thankful for everyone and everything in my life and make today matter.

Since theses deaths have occurred, I’ve tried to be more conscientious about the blessings that God has given me. I have a loving supportive family, I have wonderful friends, I get the opportunity to go to my dream school, I am healthy, I live in a safe area, I have so much freedom… the list goes on and on. My goal is to intentionally thank God EVERYDAY or these gifts because they are, well…gifts. I didn’t do anything to earn them. I need to be more proactive about showing this gratitude to God and to those that I love. I need to be better at telling my parents and friends that I love them, and that I value the relationships that we have formed. I can’t takes these precious people for granted.

The other message that God is showing me is to make moments matter. I don’t believe God makes mistakes when he takes the life away from someone. I think that some people’s lives are shorter than others depending on what God’s plan for them is. I need to make each day count because I don’t know if I will get another one. So what does that mean? I think for me, I need to focus on how I can more fully live the life that God called me to live. After all, the only reason we are on this earth is to glorify Him and to do His will. I need to take another look at each part of my day and see who I can love, serve, encourage, etc. How can I make someone’s day a little brighter? How can I spread God’s love to those around me? I want to focus on making small choices to act more like Christ. I have to transform the way I think and act now because I might not be guaranteed a later time in life to fix my ways.

I thank God for reminding me that life is short, but it’s also an incredible gift. Sometimes, our visions for the future don’t match what God has in store for us. I need to trust whatever God has planned for me, strive to live more like Christ today, and never take anything for granted. It’s a crazy wake up call, but I needed it. I hope that this will inspire you to make today count too. Tell your loved ones how much you care about them. Make someone smile. Spread kindness and joy. Make moments matter.

Lots of love,
Hannah

What is Important in My Life?

Recently, I’ve been pondering the things/people that I value most in life. If I could create a list right now, I think an accurate ranking would look something like this:

  1. God
  2. Family
  3. Close Friends
  4. Myself
  5. School
  6. Work

Theoretically in a perfect world, I would be fully surrendered to God. I would live courageously, serving whoever and wherever I am called to serve. My relationships with others would come before myself and any other objects because at the end of the day, we remember the memories that we had with those we love, not the things that we have acquired over the years. After focusing on others, I would prioritize myself because I realize that it’s important to be spiritually, emotionally, and physically well. Finally school and work, my sources of achievement would be last on my list of most valuable aspects of my life. While they are useful in helping me attain experience and wisdom, they aren’t as important the relationships that I have with God and with others.

But let’s be real here.

It’s so easy to let other things consume your time. Soon, the very things/people that are most “valuable” in your life hardly are a part of your day. Just look at a typical summer day for me.

6am: wake up, eat breakfast, watch TV, go on phone

7am: do my Bible plan/journal for 15 minutes

8am: do chores or random errands

9am: workout

10am: shower, watch TV, go on phone

11am: eat lunch, watch TV, go on phone

12pm: nap, read, go on phone

1pm: get motivation to go to work

2pm: drive to work

3pm-11pm: work, work, work, work, work

11pm: maybe say, “hi,” to my dad before I go and eat a snack

12am: hopefully I’m sound asleep

The things that are most important to me should take up most of my time, right? So I should have plenty of time with God and with the people I love. What do I do instead? Work a ton and mindlessly waste time via TV or my phone. During the school year, my schedule would pretty much be the same, but instead of 8 hours of work, I probably would have 8 hours worth of school work.

God, who is number one in my life, only gets about 15-30 minutes of my day. My family hardly gets any time at all. There are some days where I don’t talk to them for more than 5 minutes because our schedules conflict that much. When I do talk to them, I’m usually angry because I’m hungry or tired from work. Some days I see my friends, and other days I do not. Recently, though, I’ve found it hard to make time for my friends because I’m exhausted.

What I’m learning more and more about myself is that I idolize work/school even though I value my relationships with God, family, and friends. I get so distracted by feeling busy, productive, and focused that I loose sight of what is really important to me. What happens when the time your spend doing things doesn’t align with what you consider important? Well, I become a nasty version of myself. I become stressed, tired, and burnt out because I don’t dedicate time to the things that fill me up. I don’t want to be consumed by trivial matters. I want to focus on the things that are important in my life and truly make time for those things.

This is a wake-up call for me. I want to live a full life. I want to live a life that God calls me to live, one where I wake up every day and commit to doing whatever God wants me to do. I want to have close relationships with my family because I’m lucky enough to have two parents and a brother who love and support me. Not everyone has that, and I’ve seen first hand how lack of family damages a child. If that means I have to turn down the intensity on school and work, then so be it. At the end of the day, I’m not going to remember the grade I got in Biochemistry or how many hours I was a CNA. I’m going to remember how I felt during each stage of my life. I hope that I can be overfilled with joy through the good and the bad. That only comes when my ranking of important things/people actually takes precedence in my life.

So I challenge you, what do you value the most in life? Chart out a typical week and see how much time you actually allot to those things. It’s eye-opening. I pray that we can stop being blinded by trivial matters and instead start focusing on those that are most precious to us.

Lots of love,
Hannah

Loving is Hard

I’m in the middle of my shift at work. Per usual, I’m sweaty and frazzled as I try to get all of my residents ready for bed. Call lights are going off; I need help, no one is around. Instead of joyfully and positively interacting with my residents, I find myself getting impatient and short even with the sweetest people. Just wait until I have challenging residents where my best efforts are never adequate for them; I struggle to just be cordial and respectful. In scenarios like these, it’s so hard for me to love others.

LOVE.

There are a plethora of verses about it, it’s at the root of Christianity, and yet it is one of the hardest concepts for me to live by. To be honest, I do a poor job at loving my family and friends– people who should be easy to love. If I can’t love the people closest to me fully, how can I ever genuinely love my neighbors, coworkers, residents, complete strangers, enemies?

What I have started to realize, however, is that love that is within me stems from God, not myself. I have felt God’s love working through me the most at Royal Family Kids Camp this year. My two campers were broken. I don’t know their stories, but at age seven, both have them have endured more trauma and hardship than I will ever encounter. They have been emotionally, physically, or sexually abused, and now are stuck in the cycle of foster care. For a week at camp, though, it was my job to forget about their pasts and just love them for who they are. The type of love that I felt was unlike anything that I have experienced before. It was more than sisterly or motherly love. It was God’s love in me that was shining on these girls. If it were just my love working, the craziness of camp, the rain, or little behavioral issues would have inhibited me from genuinely loving my campers. Instead, camp (even though chaotic at times) was a joyous place, and I was able to create beautiful relationships with my campers. Through God’s love, I was able to give my whole self to these girls. Whatever they needed–a friend, a role model, a hug, a smile– I gave to them. So yes, even though I was tired and cold, you bet I was tubing in the lake, dancing with the girls in the cabin during “quiet time” , or walking hand-in-hand with my campers as we explored nature. My experience with Royal Family has allowed me to grow in my ability to be compassionate towards others because I learned that my love alone doesn’t cut it. I need God’s love to work through me.

Now, if I’m in a situation where I cannot love a person on my own, I send a quick prayer saying, “Lord, I’m struggling to love this person. Your love is greater than mine. Help me to love them.” It’s amazing what a simple prayer can do. This worked even this morning as my mom and I went to the farmer’s market. I was starting to become a grouch around her, but I asked for God to help me be more loving, and it saved the trip from turning sour.

This tactic doesn’t work for me all the time because I’m human and I screw up daily. Loving unconditionally is something that I want to work towards because by loving others, I am showing love to God– the one who sent Jesus to die for all of my sins. I don’t want to be a Christian who can only talk the talk. My words and actions need to embody the loving spirit of Christianity. Hopefully, God will give the the strength to allow me to grow in my capacity to love, even in situations where it’s hard to.

Lots of love,
Hannah