There and Back Again

I had to go for this title, after all I was in New Zealand for the last three weeks. I was able to take this trip with my grandparents because I had graduated college early and they were generous enough to let me tag along.

We flew to Sydney, Australia to get on the ship that would take us all along the coast of New Zealand. We stayed for two days in Sydney where I was able to go to a wildlife exhibit and meet some koalas. It is beautiful in Sydney. It’s hot and humid and rains sporadically, but it is also fun, lively, and full of adventure. We saw the Sydney Opera House and walked around Circular Quay.

We boarded the Noordam in Sydney and had a few days at sea before we reached New Zealand. This was my first cruise ever and I was surprised that I didn’t have too much of a problem with seasickness. I was one of the youngest people on board as well, the average age on the ship was probably around seventy-five. I was able to meet and talk with many of these individuals and really enjoyed meeting new people.

Our first port was Port Chalmers, where we took some off road vehicles to a Penguin reserve. While we were riding in the ARGOS, I kept getting hit in the face with different branches and bushes, which I thought was pretty humorous. Our tour guide also had an uncanny resemblance to Donald Trump and he consistently bragged about all of the things that he was doing and that he was practically famous. We stopped in Dunedin for lunch before heading back to the ship to continue on our journey.

Akaroa and Picton were both sunny and beautiful while we were there. They were the only ports where I was actually able to wear shorts comfortably because it wasn’t raining or cold. While in these ports, we visited the Banks Family Sheep Farm and went to a Maori culture insight. I was blown away by the landscapes in New Zealand and can see why they chose the islands to film The Lord of the Rings on.

Speaking of the film trilogy, we were also able to visit Hobbiton, which might have been my absolute favorite excursion. We were able to see Bag End and were given free beverages at the Green Dragon Pub as well as the most delicious muffin I have ever eaten. I was living the dream. I felt like I had stepped into Middle Earth and would fit right in the Shire.

Our more adventurous excursions included river rafting down the Mohaka River in the pouring rain and zip lining on Waiheke Island. Both of these were a blast and memories that I will cherish. Our river rafting guide, Mike, told us all about his experiences with being a guide and how he worked on the Harry Potter movies as a landscaper, which I thought was amazing. We also pulled a piece of pumice out of the river and I was able to take it home with me so that I can share it with my class. I also brought back a book to read to the kids called: Peewee the Lonely Kiwi Finds a Friend that came with a kiwi bird stuffed animal.

I also got a tattoo in Wellington at Union Tattoo (sorry, Mom). I got: “May the wind under your wings bear you where the sun sails and the moon walks,” on my shoulder blade. It is a quote from Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and I knew that I had to get it in New Zealand since that is where the films were made. I didn’t tell my mom until after I got it done and broke the news to her by messaging her and telling her how beautiful she was and how much I loved her. Her instant response was: “What did you do? Were you naughty?!” I might as well just give it to her straight at this point, so I told her that I had gone under the needle once again! She was not too pleased with me, but she was also glad that I didn’t get a tattoo on my neck. No worries, Mom!

Unfortunately, our last port was cancelled due to weather conditions and we had to head back to Sydney one day early. I am thankful that I was able to see so many sights before we left and while on the ship I did plenty of reading and writing. I read three books during my trip: Stephanie Garber’s Caraval, Leigh Bardugo’s Smoke and Bone, as well as Jane Eyre. After reading all of these books, I still had two days left at sea, so I used that time to write and journal.

We disembarked in Sydney and made the long trip home. We flew out at 11:50am on March 14th and arrived in California at 11:50am, March 14th. Time change is weird. Jet lag has certainly kicked my butt as well as my poor grandparents. We have all developed aches and pains as well as a bad cough, but hopefully with enough sleep we will recover quickly! It is a small price to pay for the trip of a lifetime!

Purpose

I am a chronic over-thinker and it drives my family and friends absolutely crazy. I analyze and re-analyze every little thing that I do to the extreme. It’s difficult for me to slow down and relax when there is so much that I have to do! I am twenty-one and have just graduated college with my Bachelor’s degree, I need to make my next move NOW. I lay awake at night and make lists of all of the things that I need to do in the next few years in order to be a successful person. I stress about how much money I will need to make in order to support myself, I wonder whether or not I will be good at what I do as a career, and I think about all of the different ways that I could fail.

So what does make a person successful? Is success defined by how much money we make or how quickly we received our doctorate degree? Is it defined by the clothes we wear or how well-liked we are? What happens when these things don’t measure up?

I’d like to suggest that success can be approached in a different manner. When I am overwhelmed and anxious about the future (which most twenty-somethings usually are), I tend to wonder what my purpose in life is. What was I put on this earth to do? And each and every time I ask myself this question, I am given the same answer.

I was put on this earth to help others.

I was made to love other people. I was made to support my family, my friends, even those around me that I may not know well. I was made to love and to love well. Life leads us on many unexpected journeys and our plans for the future may change, but this does not mean that we have failed. Whether or not we have the most expensive clothes, or cars, or the highest paying jobs, or the most friends does not determine the value of our lives. How we treat those we come into contact with everyday shapes us into who we are. We were made to love and to be loved. One act of kindness can change the course of someone else’s life.

I need to admit to myself that when I make myself anxious about the future I am being a bit selfish. Stressing myself out will not bring me the answers that I am searching for and it will certainly not help anyone around me. I feel the most fulfilled when I talk to people, when I take the time to listen to a friend, or help someone in need. I love going to work and being able to not only teach, but to love on kids who may or may not be getting the love that they need. It is when I am thinking about other people that I feel most like myself.

So the next time you feel overwhelmed about the near or distant future. You don’t have to have everything figured out. Try to remember to slow it down and take time in your personal interactions. It’s the people around you each day that help to shape who you are. Take time to show the world that you care.

Chewed Up Gum and a Ring by Spring

I am sure that many of you have heard the phrase, “Ring by Spring.” It has become a popular phrase in Christian culture and I am certainly not the first  person to bring it up in conversation. If it wasn’t obvious enough, “Ring by Spring” is a popular phrase in the Christian college culture that refers to becoming engaged or married by spring time. I have heard this phrase used many times throughout my college career and now that I am in my last semester of undergraduate studies, I have even been asked if I have a potential husband lined up. While this phrase can be funny and somewhat cute at times, it can also cause undue stress on individuals who base their self-worth on finding a spouse by the end of their college careers.

Another train of thought that I would like to present before diving in to my main discussion point is this: “The Chewed Gum Analogy.” The Chewed Gum analogy refers to a person that has given themselves away physically to one or multiple partners, the chewed gum represents how once one has engaged in sexual activity, that person can never have their purity restored (one cannot un-chew a piece of gum). This way of thinking isolates those who have had a sexual history, as well as rape victims and those who have endured sexual abuse.

The majority of Christian culture has always had a negative view of sexual activity. Often times, those who are religious look down on those who have had any kind of past experiences with this. I have had to fight this battle for the last seven years of my life. Ever since I was thirteen years old, I have wondered if I was that chewed up piece of gum, the rose without petals, or whatever other category that someone wanted to assign to me. As far as I was concerned, I was dirty, unclean, and unworthy of love.

However, if we are truly looking at what it means to be pure, I suggest that we consider Christ’s words. In Matthew, Jesus tells His followers that to look at someone in lust is to commit adultery in one’s heart and to harbor hatred in the heart is akin to committing murder. By these standards, would we not all fall under the category of impure?

A person’s past experiences do not determine their worth. The simple fact that each individual person was created in the image of God is reason enough to treat every person that we come across with love and respect. Society has taught us to stop seeing people as people, but has taught us to view one another as objects to use for our own personal gain. We live within a cycle of exploitation and heartbreak. Only when we allow ourselves to see one another as beautiful and worthy creations of God will we be able to break this cycle.

I’ll be honest, even within the last few months I have really been struggling with my own self worth. Do I even fit the mold of what someone would want as a future wife? A future mother? What do I have to offer another person that has not already been taken or given away? Am I too damaged? Do I even deserve love? I have had to continually tell myself that I am worth waiting for, worth fighting for, I’m worth being appreciated, and I am worth being valued. Despite my past, I am valued by God, and I deserve to be valued by those around me. The truth is, I don’t need to find a spouse before I graduate to fulfill my true potential or to find self-worth. I don’t need to redeem myself from my past, because I have already been redeemed. I need only look to Christ and His sacrifice on the cross to fully understand how much I am worth.

Defeating Shame

Shame attacks us all. It sneaks up on us and eats away at us. Sometimes, shame finds us through our mistakes, and other times, it finds its way into our hearts through our insecurities. We feel like nothing we do will ever be good enough. We push ourselves to be better, to please everyone around us, and hold ourselves to unrealistic expectations.

 
During my Spiritual Formation Group this morning, my group and I were reading through a chapter on learning how to love yourself when I realized how I have been unknowingly allowing myself to be affected by shame. I have always been a people pleaser. I have always felt like if someone were displeased with me, it was the end of the world until I could win that person’s approval back. I am also constantly telling myself that I don’t deserve the blessings that God has given me and that I need to earn His approval, acceptance, and love. I reflect this through my actions when I am unreasonably hard on myself, when I beg for outside affirmation, and when I find myself leading my life based on my works rather than my identity in Christ.

 
So, how do we deal with shame? We rest in the fact that Jesus has paid the price for us. We do not need to earn His love because it was freely given. No matter what we have done in the past, we are forgiven for our sins. When we allow ourselves to dwell in shame, we separate ourselves from the love of our Heavenly Father. Insecurity in our identity in Christ also leads to the temptation to compare ourselves to those around us. This not only damages our view of ourselves, but it also damages our view of those around us. We have each been hand crafted by God to serve a specific purpose and we cannot attempt to usurp one another’s purposes because we feel like ours isn’t good enough.

You Are Worthy

For so long, I believed that I was unworthy of love. I believed the lie that because I was imperfect, I was unlovable. Society tells us that we must strive for perfection in every area of our lives in order to earn love and affection. God tells us that He loves us unconditionally.

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

-Romans 5:8

In this verse, Paul tells us that Christ, in His love, died for us while we were actively rejecting Him. While we were still in our sin, Jesus came so that we might be free. We believe that we have to be perfect in order to be right with God, or for God to love us, but this isn’t true. God desires us to present ourselves to Him as we are. He created us with a special purpose and wants to help us achieve the grand plans that He has in store for us.

I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving kindness.

-Jeremiah 31:3

We were each created for a beautiful purpose and despite our flaws, we are worthy of love. I personally struggle with accepting myself and loving myself despite my own shortcomings, flaws, and failures. However, the truth is that I am loved personally and passionately by the Creator of the universe, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. I am fun, adventurous, thoughtful, kind, and compassionate. God created me for a unique purpose and has given me a passion for serving those around me. I am worthy of being loved. You are also worthy of being loved. I would encourage you to make a list (mentally or physically) of your own positive qualities and remind yourself that you were created for a wonderful purpose and the God of the universe loves you with an everlasting love.

Remind yourself:

You are worthy,

You are worthy,

You are worthy.

Building Up One Another

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

-I Thessalonians 5:11

As believers, and as humans, we are called to look after one another. Each of us are a unique and beloved child of the King. So often, we fall into a trap of discouraging one another rather than encouraging, comparing ourselves to one another instead of reveling in the beauty of God’s creation, and tearing each other down instead of building each other up. What if instead of looking to ourselves for our fulfillment, we looked to our Creator? It is my belief that we would be much more content and more open to loving one another. If we are able to accept that we are each individually loved by an all-knowing God for our individual characteristics that He has gifted us with, we will be able to appreciate the differences in one another.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.

-Psalm 139:14

I have a personal story regarding this subject. Throughout this last year, I have experienced jealousy of one person in particular and that caused me to have an intense dislike for this person. I knew that this was wrong. This person had never wronged me, she was just being who God had created her to be: brilliant, creative, compassionate, and talented. I realized this sin in my life long before I decided to do anything about it. I knew that the way that I was feeling was wrong. This was a heart issue, not a her issue. I spent some time talking to God, praying that He would change my heart, and prayed for her individually, that He would bless her. Slowly, God revealed to me that my jealousy came from a place of not believing that I was fearfully and wonderfully made. I was not loving myself the way that God love me, I was not seeing myself with His eyes. Throughout the last few months, God has been helping me to grow in this area, and allowing me to share this knowledge with others. I have been radically blessed through this experience. I have taken major steps to overcoming my feelings of inadequacy and jealousy. God has lifted this weight off of my shoulders because I could not do so on my own. I have realized that part of our individual purpose is to bless and serve one another.

Kind words are like honey, sweet to the soul, and healthy for the body.

-Proverbs 16:24

 

When we bless one another and lift each other up, it not only blesses the person receiving the gift of kind words or actions, it blesses us as well. Jesus came so that He might serve, not to be served, and this is how we aspire to be like Him.