Valentine’s Day and Love — A Single Teenager’s Nightmare

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It is EVERYWHERE

If you are a teenager, which means if you are in middle school or high school, sometimes February can be just as harsh for you as it is for adults. Our society loves young love and you see it everywhere! Media. Music. Books. Pictures. Your Peers walking around the hallways. It is EVERYWHERE. I know I said that twice, but I am making a point. Now my personal viewpoint, especially after working with youth age for the past four and half years is you shouldn’t date yet, but that is a tangent for another time.

In reality, you are dating or your concept of dating. I mean seriously, can you even drive yet? But there are a lot of you that aren’t and I am here to give you some comfort in this time of lovebirds, flowers, and chocolates.

Single Teenager’s Nightmare

Many of you look at this time of year and think you are unworthy or ugly or too fat or whatever negative viewpoint about yourselves come to your mind. (I am telling you, you are wrong, but we will get to that). Watching your best friend giggle at some lame line their boyfriend came up with can make you vomit. And you’re trying not to still because she wants you to come over and help her pick out the right outfit for their “date.” Honey, you are not alone and I have been there. I mean you are happy for your best friend, but inside you just wish it was both of you picking out cute little outfits. By the end of hanging out, you want to climb into bed with a tube of ice cream and either a romantic YA novel, crying over the main characters love or a slasher novel, where everything is killed. It is literally a Single Teenager’s Nightmare.

Some Truth to Hold onto To

Single Teenager's NightmareThe problem is we females (and yes, I am saying me too), we tend to put our worth in relationships, whether it is with friends or a boy. Ladies, our worth isn’t found in our friends or relationships with boys. Our worth needs to be founded in Jesus Christ!

Psalm 139:14 says: “I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, I know that full well!”

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Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

God created us and made us each unique and special. We don’t need the approve of someone who might be in our lives for only a blink of an eye because we have the approval of the one who made us and will love us forever! So even if the boy you have drooled over for the past six months asks somebody else to spend Valentine’s Day together, doesn’t mean you are unworthy of someone’s love. You are already loved more than any mortal man can give.

What to Do on Valentine’s Day

Like I said, you don’t need a man. There are many things you can do to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

  1. Get a group of friends together and hang out.
    • Go to the movies together.
    • Grab dinner and socialize.
    • Go bowling or ice skating (roller blading if you are down south).
    • Have a sleepover.

Yes, many people view Valentine’s Day about couples and their love, but we have a love for friends, right? Why not celebrate those relationships too! So don’t feel like you need to hide away in your bedroom. You can always find a way to make it a great time of year!

God Bless,

AshleyDannie

My Mess of a Freshman Year

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Freshman year.

The year that supposed to be the start of something new. (That was definitely referring to high school musical, if you were wondering)

Rather than walking into school with open doors that year, I walked in with chains.

I was completely held down by the most burdening relationship I could’ve imagined.

I met him 8th grade. I hated him (because I knew his past of bad relationships) but when he talked to me I thought to myself “he’s changed”. I convinced myself and my family and friends that he was not who everyone made him out to be. He was different.

I can’t tell you exactly when it happened. All of the sudden I realized, he wasn’t different. He was verbally abusive. He was mentally abusive. He made me feel worthless, like I always owed him an explanation of my actions. An explanation for why I ate something, why I watched a certain tv show, or why I didn’t text him 30 minutes before I left to go somewhere.

The control he had was overwhelming. The list of rules I had that I thought I had to follow to be loved was never ending. I was suffocating in a world that I thought I had no choice.

My family saw it and tried to stop it so many times. I fought so hard to make it work. I thought “if I just give him more effort, I can change him!”

My friends saw what he was doing and tried to help but I was blind. I had his ex (previously a very good friend of mine) text me, telling me to be careful. I had a good guy friend of mine blow up my phone trying to get my attention. Trying to help. I pushed each and every person as far away as I possibly could.

One day, he started talking about our future family. That’s when it hit me. I couldn’t bring a girl into the world and give her a father like that. And I knew that if I didn’t do something right then, I never would.

I attempted to break up with him. He basically told me no. (I don’t know how that works but whatever)

An amazing teacher saved my life that day.

It was right after my attempt to leave him. I was walking through the hallway, tearful eyes and all. She stopped me, realizing the hurt I was carrying. I fell into pieces. I saw my light. I burst into tears and I confessed to her that I was alone. She literally replied. “No you’re not. I have students coming to me, worried for you. Wanting to help but not knowing how. You have people who care for you everywhere, sam. You’re gonna be okay.”

She immediately rushed me to guidance to call my mother (which in the moment I was livid about but looking back, I’m so grateful).

I struggled for weeks to find my life in the mess that was left of it. My friends came back. And slowly but surely, my life and happiness did too.

Of course, I strived to find the silver lining forever but it didn’t come until I met my current boyfriend. I realized I would’ve never appreciated the amazing man he is today if I wouldn’t have gone through such a rough time. Thanks to this mess of a freshman year, I’ll never take the little things for granted. I’ll never look at my boyfriend and not be grateful. This situation gave me strength to stand up and fight for life I want to live. It gave me confidence to follow my dreams when no one gets it but me. It gave me a new respect for myself. A respect for my body, my feelings and my entire being in general.

To the person who has convinced themselves that you’re “stuck”, trust me when I say this, someone, somewhere, is trying to help. Whether you see it or not, people care. Don’t settle for a life you won’t be proud of. Free yourself & be yourself.

(What a cheesy way to end this)

Let go and let God

image

Every high schooler will say the same thing. The stress of simply attending school and getting what you have to get done is unreal. The pressure to excel in this society is intense. If you’re not the quarterback of the football team, the captain of the cheer squad, or the kid going to Harvard, you’re just another number in the 2800 kids attending the same school.

I saw a picture a while ago that was just another picture with a list of things you should put before school work. Honestly, I just read it without even soaking in what it was saying. (Mindless phone wandering at its finest, people)

It took until the second time reading it that the message stood out. (Btw I searched hard for the picture but it’s nowhere to be found)

The message was basically this: Don’t miss out on life because you have a paper due the next day. Don’t sit inside cramming when your family is outside enjoying each other’s company. Don’t give up a valuable talk with your mom just because you have 30 questions to do for the math the next day. Don’t ignore your crying best friend because your worksheet “has to get done”.

There’s more to life than just school.

Am I saying school isn’t important? Absolutely not. Education is the key to whatever door you want to open in your lifetime.

But between the papers and cramming sessions, let go a little. Don’t be so tied down by the anchors of school that you miss out on your actual high school experience.

Don’t hold onto the stress of doing everything. Hand it to God and wipe your hands of it. God will provide you the sanity and calmness needed to get through high school if you just let go and let God.

The day I let go a little and realized that life (and my sanity) was more important than any single assignment, I became happier. If I was stressed to the point of tears, I didn’t add to it by opening my book bag. I handled the biggest responsibility in my life.. To live a life I’m proud of. My grades haven’t suffered and I’m less tense on the daily basis.

Being a responsible student is one thing, but don’t get so bogged down in the books that you miss out of the life happening right in front of you.

So I Never Forget: Part 2

Today marks 10 years. I know I wrote a short story a few months ago, but I wrote this poem first. It is a re-write from a poem I did many years ago about Josh. If you want to read the whole story click this link. Otherwise, enjoy the poem. josh We love you and will rejoice the day we get to see you again~

 

AshleyDannie

Let me introduce myself

Introduce Myself Hey, guys! I’m Sam and I’m new to the whole blogging scene so bear with me!

First off- a little bit about myself. I am a junior at Carroll High School. I work at Pathway Community Church as a childcare worker. I have a strong passion for art and I’m an aspiring graphic designer. I have two brothers, two dogs, and a boyfriend. My mother is my best friend and I don’t go out much. I have a health condition called POTS disorder (which I won’t go into detail about now because I’m sure that will come soon).

I have been through it all. From abusive relationships to high school sweethearts. From being the social butterfly to being the girl who hides in the corner. From being the so-called “party girl” to being Pentecostal. From being a cheerleader to having a life-altering disorder. There’s very little that I can say I haven’t tackled in my life. And those are the things that I’ll be blogging about.

Being a teenage girl is hard enough. Being a responsible, strong, God-loving teenage girl is a different story.

But it’s my story.

My Masquerade’s Dance with God

I have always loved the idea of a masquerade ball: gorgeous dresses, fancy masks, hidden identity, dancing with a complete stranger only to have them take off their mask at midnight to find either a friend you have known your whole life or a complete, handsome stranger whom you fall in love with instantly. It is a romantic fairytale vision that many little girls dream about and single women long for. Although if I really think about it, that fantasy can never come true. It is mythical, but the idea of a mask is not. As I transferred from college age fantasies to a young woman many ideas have evolved and one of them is the thought of a mask. See I grew up as a Christian and I do not want to say I am religious, because that is a whole other negative annotation to get into, but what I will say I am is a strong follower of Jesus. So a little over two years ago I decided that God wanted me to start leading a small group of middle school aged girls at my church’s youth group on Wednesday nights. As my journey has progressed and matured through the couple years I have been with them I have discovered something about pre-teen age I never really thought about before—they were a mask.

The fantastical mask I once fantasized wearing as I danced with a dashing stranger is something middle school students, especially females, tie on every single day. This is not something we voluntarily do; we are trained to do this everyday of our lives. Just look at the different magazines that float from stand to stand. We want to be skinny or blond or blue eyed or tanner or taller or anything other than what is staring back at us in the mirror hanging in our bedroom. Do you realize that we are so obsessed with our image that we have a mirror hanging in almost every room? Take my old house for example. When I would walk in from the garage there was a mirror in our entryway to the left of me, then walking past my kitchen into my dining room there was a mirror hanging on the far wall. Of course we also had two and a half baths which had a huge mirror in each one and all three bedrooms had full length mirrors in them, adding to the vain lies that our world thrusts in our faces. If you weren’t counting that is eight mirrors–EIGHT! Who needs eight mirrors in their home of four people! Wow.

Mirrors aren’t the only negative entity in our weak and feeble minds. We allow songs, TV shows, movies, even pictures out of magazines influence who we become, but it doesn’t mean that is who we are supposed to be. It doesn’t help when a fashion designer or magazine editor says that you have to be this size, with this color of hair and eyes, and that height to be considered beautiful.

Our appearance is not the only thing that could be considered a mask—our attitudes as well. What people see us as is just another fancy dress we lace up and parade around for the world to see. As teens, stereotypical masks such as: Jock, Popular, Nerd, Goth, Hippie, Ghetto, etc., are all we think about when we are in school. Kids try and fit into one of those labels or they are accused of being it and can never scrub away the invisible tattoo their peers has inked on their foreheads.

As soon as you walk through the doors into the public eye, whether we realize it or not, we cloth ourselves in “who” we want to be. But is that really you? That is a question we need to consistently ask ourselves: “Underneath it all is this who I really am?” What if it is not who we are? What if we decorate our masks with frivolous feathers, beads, and sequins just to impress the friends and people around us? Is that really how it should work?

These are all questions that even as I grow older I still can not answer without a small hint of skepticism. The world of fashion and entertainment outline our clothes and what is ‘hot’ or ‘uncool,’ so are the answers we come up with on who we are truly real and from ourselves? We live in such a world full of technology that any answer of any question can be found by pressing a button and asking Siri, but even the internet can be full of lies for us. Where is the one place you can go and get the truth? I think for each person it is different, but I do not mean your best friend or boyfriend or your parents or even your husband or wife, because they do not know everything about you and your heart. They are not always privileged to see under the mask but in my opinion only one is: God.

We forget that, don’t we? God can see us. I believe God already knows everything about us. He designed who we are.  Last year in our youth group we talked about the mask we wear everyday and how we can strip that mask away. Its funny because every time I hear about ‘taking off the mask’ I feel like they are telling me to let everyone around me know everything about me; from my superficial interests to my deep dark secrets. I do not think that is what we should do. I know as a Christian I must present myself as a believer and follow the laws and commandments of my God, but I do not think we must show the world our hurts. There is a fine line between lying about yourself and being yourself. We can have a mask on and still be ourselves—our true mask.  The thing about the mask is we need to allow our imperfections to show. It is what makes us unique in a time when everybody wants to be the same. I like being unique. It means I was created for something special. Right now I could become depressed because I am college graduate, whom was let go from her supposedly ‘dream’ job, clawing at a graduate degree, hoping it will help me find my true career path, and, barely making ends meat because I don’t have a full time job yet, but I don’t. Why? Well, because God has a plan in this and He is preparing me for whatever is next.

It is the same for everyone, young and old alike. You might be at the low end of the totem pole or the bell of the ball; it doesn’t matter because God has a plan for what you are going through. I know it is difficult to see and to be honest only God sees His puzzle that He is constructing, the book He is writing, or the timeline He is plotting, but it is there, you have to trust him! I have to trust Him. I have to trust that there are going to be days when I will have to have my true mask tied around my head and ready for battle against our cruel world with God by my side and there are days I will have to trust He is holding my hand as I pull the mask down a little and display some of my deeper pain as I lead these girls down the rocky road of middle school and the masquerade issues of life.

Technology: An Unfeeling Generation of Zombies

I know this is going to sound contradicting, but it is a topic that has always plagued me when it comes to youth and how they conduct themselves today: Technology. I know I have to use technology to publish this blog, but there is a healthy use for technology and the youth of today are abusing it’s wonders. I am only 27 years old, but it wasn’t that long ago that a cell phone was such a privilege that if you were found with one in your locker it was confiscated. To reminisce a bit when I was in high school there was no such thing as a camera on a phone, Facebook was only for college kids, you used myspace primarily for finding music, and if you wanted to be on the internet the phone line  had to be open and you had to listen to the lovely dial-up noises.You know the ones I am talking about…well if you are over the age of 20 maybe.

Now since the age of technology has advanced more, cell phones are mini computers, dial up is now wireless, and real friends are demoted to likes on Instagram or Facebook. We have become obsessed with this tiny device we can hold in our hands. A new show on Disney Channel had an episode on how technology is crippling our society and that show is Girl Meets World. Cory Matthews says it all in the beginning:

“You guys don’t connect with each other. Its like you can’t exist without these. You guys use emoticons rather than emotions. You’re an unfeeling generation of zombies!”

I know this is a little over the top, but I think you get the gist of it. And the fact we think we have actual friends in our phone is a crazy idea:

“Dad, adjust and deal. Cellphones have been around for like ever,” Riley said.

“It will amaze you to know there was a whole world out there before you and cell phones,” Cory replies.

“And it will amaze you to know that I have 394 friends in here,” Riley shoots back, pointing at her cellphone.

“And I’m amazed you believe that,” Cory ends the argument.

There is no way we have 394 close friends, maybe acquaintances, but we don’t really know them. The only way to know people is to listen to them and the only way to listen is to sit with them in person. We have become so obsessed with making ‘friends’ in the virtual world we have forgotten the friends who are standing right in front of us. I mean look around. I bet if you are in public right now you can see many different groups of people not interacting because they have a small box of wires attached to their hands. That is all it is: wires. Cell phones don’t have souls. God didn’t create us to need relationships with technology. He created us to have relationships with Him and the people he puts in our lives.

The verse for this topic in particular is:

 Proverbs 25:16: “If you find honey, eat just enough—too much of it and you will vomit.”

Doesn’t this verse say it all? Too much technology can cripple how you interact in the world around you. Too much music and noise hinders your other senses from having a part in this amazing world God made for us. When was the last time you walked outside without any music or your cell phone and listened to the sounds around you. Nature is the world’s first real musician. The birds’ song lyrics fill the sky, the leaves rustle in the wind, the waves crash like cymbals on the banks, and the crickets creak their sad songs.

As a society we shouldn’t be obsessed with what is the latest twitter trend or the new funny video on youtube. Those are only small snapshots of what life is actually like. We need to become a well-rounded person. Cambridge Dictionary defines well-rounded as this: “involving or having experience in a wide range of ideas or activities.” Technology is just one experience and one activity we could do. Have you ever took a walk around the city? Or rode a horse in the country? Have you ever went camping with friends?Or played a board game with your family? And have you ever read a book? Or drew a picture on paper?

I know this sounds like a never ending rant on how technology has changed us for the worse, and it very much is, but there are good things about technology as well. You can keep in contact with friends from different states or countries and there are other things that are good with technology, but that is all we see–the good. Sometimes we need to stop and see what it does to hinder us as well.

Put down the phones. Get your hands dirty and talk to people. There is more to life than a box of wires that doesn’t even have a soul. Maya from Girl Meets World read it best out of a library book: “There is no connection you can make with any screen that compares to the moment you understand that human beings have a soul.”

Feb. 25: Let’s End This Together

Today is the national day for slavery awareness. If you don’t know there are up to or even more than 27 million slaves around the world, working in the fields, brothels, traded for sex, etc. I was never aware of this until Jan. 2013 when I attended Passion 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. The conference opened my eyes to the evil that is still occurring today. Most people, if you ask, say that slavery ended after the Civil War. If you are one of those people you’re dead wrong.

That summer my college small group friends and I decided to put our voice out there for the cause. We designed and executed a huge fundraiser at our church to raise money for an organization who helps and works with people who are saved from that life of slavery: Tiny Hands International. Through the experience of getting the fundraiser ready, I found my heart really reacts to this cause. There is a worship song that I love and one of the lines goes “Let my heart breaks for what breaks yours.” For many years I heard that as just a song, but after Passion it has become a prayer in my life and believe me when I say the issues of slavery in our world breaks my heart as it does God’s.

If you don’t know much about the cause here are some facts I found from the End It Movement website:

  • Slavery exists in 167 countries around the world. That’s 85% of the nations across the globe.

  • Nearly 1 in 5 victims of slavery is a child. The average age a teen enters the sex trade in the US is 12 – 14 years old.

  • There are an estimated 60,100 people trapped in slavery
    in the United States right now.

  • An estimated 199,000 incidents of sexual exploitation of minors occur each year in the United States. That’s one incident every 3 minutes.

Those are just four facts about what is going on with slavery, but what the facts don’t show is the cruelty of what goes on to the slaves. Rape, torture, starved, kept in tiny-unlivable rooms, and even death. The thought of men, women, and especially children enduring this breaks my heart every time.

One of the big questions everyone asks is how are these slaves taken into this lifestyle if it is illegal? IJM has a great explanation on their website:

“One of the most common techniques to entrap laborers is through false debts. An owner lures a poor person into slavery by offering a small advance payment for their labor. The owner then ensures it is impossible for the slave to ever repay by inflating the debt owed with exorbitant interest charges, not paying the victim the promised wages and prohibiting him or her from working anywhere else. These false debts can be passed from one generation to the next; we have identified entire families (from grandparents to parents to children) who have been forced to work for years after accepting advance payments as low as $20.”

How they entrap them is just another cruel tactic that breaks my heart as I read the paragraph above, but there is a door to the suffocating cage these enslaved people have lived in for so long. The world has been noticing the issue and are responding. International Justice Mission is just one organization fighting for the slaves around the world. Tiny Hands International is another, but there are more. All they ask if for our support in this fight, whether it is donating money, time, or even lifting up prayers for the workers and slaves. You can be a teenager or an adult, they don’t care, they just need our help. God says in  James 1: 27:

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

We shouldn’t help just because slavery is against the law, but because it is what God charges us to do. The children in these situations are usually orphaned and the women would be lucky if their husband is even alive. Even though men aren’t in this verse, I believe God wants us to help them too.

So this is our chance. We can spread the word about slavery and start helping in any way we can. Don’t be afraid to help and I pray you don’t read over this and just set it aside, because you are no longer ignorant to the issue of slavery. Say a prayer. Donate money or time. Be active in the fight because God didn’t call us to just sit on the sidelines in our Christianity, but to change the world in His Name. We are His children and He will give us the strength to fight this fight.

So I Never Forget

 Some people would say that what I am about to do is called self-reflection. Not me. There is nothing to self-reflect about it. It is me flushing out my thoughts so I won’t dwell on them, because sometimes they hurt too much. I have known loss. I have known more loss as a 27 year old than some has known being in their 50s. Each one has had an affect; each one is a story that changed my life in dramatic ways. My grandma’s passing was the first I ever experienced, but we knew it was coming—cancer. She fought hard, but after 18 months we lost her to the illness. I personally changed, dedicating my life to God, wanting the experience of love and strength my grandma had, but the story of my faith is a whole other story for a different time.

After grandma a slew of friends and classmates followed: Drew, Haylee, Lindsey, and Cody. Each one taken and each one reminding me that life doesn’t always make it to 80 with a large family and grandkids running around. You could make a mistake with drugs or look away for a split second while driving or battle a losing fight to cancer or succumb to the darkness surrounding you. Each time one of them fell to one of these problems I was reminded of how important it is to live. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer [experiences]” (Goodreads). I am trying to do just that, but again another story for another time.

The death that affected me the most was Josh. Josh wasn’t a blood relative, a childhood friend, or a classmate from high school, but a close friend who introduced me to the people I call family.

Looking back at Sept. 2006, I was still trying to find my way around Southeastern University as I started my freshman year. I had some friends—girls I met in my dorm area, but nobody of who would become permanent as I grew up. I don’t exactly remember how we met but I bet it went something like this…

El Prado, the main street/sidewalk in SEU, clamored with students hanging out at the tables along the windows of the café. Guitars could be found every other table with wannabe worship pastors serenading the M.R.S. degree girls littering the chairs around them, swooning over every note even if it was severely out of tune. I walked in, past the masses, to find something to drink and a late night snack for studying. I surveyed the coolers, picking up a Starbucks Vanilla Double Shot and then a blueberry muffin at the cashier’s stand, which became my go to study snack, explaining the freshman fifteen on top of the endless buffet of our “lovely” Chartwells (cafeteria caterer). As I was leaving one of my friends called me over to one of the tables with a guitar—great—but I sat down anyways, prolonging my procrastination of whatever homework I needed to accomplish, probably one of my religion courses. The interesting thing about this table was the boy with the guitar. He was very tall, (which isn’t saying much since I am a whopping 5’3”) with short blonde hair, narrow caring eyes, a long nose, and big ears. Unlike the many boys with guitars around, he wasn’t serenading girls with intense worship songs, but he and some other friends were…rapping? At a Christian college? I mean I grew up being told rap and Christianity didn’t mix, but since I had been to college a lot of things I was told was sacrilegious turned out to be a lie so why not rap too.

I learned his name that night was Josh and whenever he saw me he said hi, sometimes hanging out in a group on El Prado. It wasn’t too long after that he asked me to check out the worship band he was in called Tirzah. I remember walking toward the module classrooms down by Chartwells, nervous as hell, because at the moment I had a slight crush on him, but nothing too major. I mean come on! I was a single girl at college in a new state! I had to keep my options open…Yeah well, any who…

I walked into the module, music flooding my ears as they sang—Arms Wide Open? Oh goodness sake, somebody please save me from the deafening lyrics of Creed. When I finally found my footing, Josh stood next to a dude a little taller than him and wider in the sense of muscle mass. He had jet black hair and more of a baby face compared to Josh. He held an acoustic guitar, while Josh had an electric, and so did another much shorter and stocker boy with long brown hair. To my surprise and relief there were two girls a drummer and a keyboardist. The drummer made me think twice with her pixie short, multi-colored hair and punkish vibe. She reminded me of the girls who I grew up with that got me into a lot of trouble, but we are at a Christian college and nothing goes wrong there, right? Right!?

The other girl looked as if she was a year older than me, with very long, thin blonde hair and a sweet disposition—until she saw me. When she realized that Josh invited me I felt the ice stare of an angry Elsa bare down on me. (Yes, I know she wasn’t around yet back in 2006, but it is the only thing I can think to compare it too for a present reference, so get over it please!) I come to find out that out of the possible six dorms on campus, she lived in mine. Oh, but it gets worse—she lived in the apartment dorm room right ABOVE me! So not only did I feel her hate when I went to watch the band, but also when he was visiting her dorm or mine.

I know all you ladies who have experienced something similar to this are probably cringing, because you know the feeling, but honestly I look back and laugh. Fast-forwarding a couple weeks, I had moved on from Josh, because there was just no lasting spark between us and I had found a boy who was giving me A LOT of attention…which will probably be my next life lesson story. But, before I go down that rabbit hole, Tirzah was scheduled to lead worship at Holly, my hated rival’s church. Well, worse came to worse and we got stuck in a car together—alone. CAT FIGHT! You wish. Actually, as we were driving I revealed I didn’t like Josh that way and I told her I knew she did. It was like all the frosty weight between us disappeared. This is where the story gets better in my opinion, because within that one weekend we went from rivals to sisters, becoming inseparable.

I know getting to this point in the story was a gruesome process, but I wish arriving at this point lead to only better things. After our amazing weekend of finally becoming friends and then family, our time together as a unit was short lived…

April 29, 2007. Supposed to be one of the happiest days of the year, because I was in Disney World with another one of my friend groups I had met over the course of the year. We had an amazing time, but not every day is a fairytale…

The six of us were packed into Christian’s truck after a long day of making dreams come true at my favorite place in the world. Since we finally were sitting in one spot, I thought I would get out my cellphone, which 1) was an old school flip phone: Razor and 2) was not attached to my hand the whole time, but buried in the bottom of my drawstring bag, because we knew what was more important than texting and social media. Not that we had the option on our phones, but still. Once I got it out I had a bunch of missed calls and a few voicemails from Holly. She normally didn’t call me this much, so I knew something was wrong, but I had no idea how bad.

I ignored the voicemail and called her. When she picked up I couldn’t understand a word she said. I quieted down the others in the truck and all I heard was “Josh was in an accident. Josh is gone…” She repeated it a few times in between sobs and the smile I had on my face all day long fell away as I fought the tears. I got off the phone after telling her I would come up to her room right when I got home. Everything after that became very foggy.

I don’t remember sitting in silent tears the whole 45 minute drive back to campus. I don’t remember telling Christian to slow down and be careful. I don’t remember the guard waving us in right before curfew. I don’t remember the walk back to my room. I don’t remember trudging up the stairs to Holly’s, hoping it was all a dream. I don’t remember finishing the last week of school and finals. I just can’t recall any of it.

What I do remember is our group coming together as a family. We had a memorial service before school ended and what we thought would be maybe fifty students filled up the whole chapel. The loss of Josh could have done one of two things to our band: break us up or pull us together. I thank God every day it pulled us together. A common question is why God? Why does this happen to good people? These are questions we can never fully understand, but what we can understand is He has a plan. I like to think God knew what kind of family we would become in the midst of the loss.

This coming April will be nine years; nine long years since we lost the guy who brought our family together. I like to think he was the permanent glue which bound us together for the rest of our lives, because if anything our family is growing, becoming stronger as the years continue. Holly and Ralph married within our non-blood related family and they are about to give us our first niece or nephew. (I am rooting for a girl! Girl means we outnumber the boys finally!) It is hard though not to think about how Josh could have fit into all of this. How would have Tirzah evolved with Josh and Rob both at the helm? Would he have sung or rapped at Ralph and Holly’s wedding? Who would have captured his heart? So many unanswered questions, but we need not focus on the negative, but focus on the good. I know—cliché, but it is the truth.

I will always remember how he would steal our fries, when he could clearly go up to the buffet and get his own. I remember him always carrying around an apple for who knows what—oh yeah, the cattle that were over an hour away at home. I remember his policeman walk, like he was packing on his hips, but really there was nothing there. I remember his goofy grin and the things that happened in Holly’s car, which should stay there. (Inside joke—don’t push it.) What I remember the most is the sense of belonging to a group who is to this day my closest family from my college years. I thank God I knew Josh, even though it was for only a short period of time. You never know when someone walks into your life, making an impact so profound it will change you forever. He was that for me—for us. So I pray if you know someone who impacted your life the way Josh influenced mine—hold onto to them for as long as you can, because we are not guaranteed a long life, so fill it up with the people who will make it a great one!

My Self-Image Journey

I am telling this story, because I know there are other girls and women out there who can relate. I am also telling this story to show that we aren’t defined by what we wear or the jewelry that adorns us.

Psalms 139:14 “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

I live by this verse. I repeat this verse every Wednesday during small group to my middle school girls. I am this verse. Every girl, lady, women, mom, grandma, great grandma, and daughter are this verse. There was one point in my life that I didn’t believe these words…

I was in sixth grade and an eighth grade girl, at our very first dance of the year, stopped me in my tracks and told me to stop sticking out my chest and stuffing my bra for guys attention. I will be the first to tell you I wasn’t. I was a very developed sixth grader and very comfortable in her own skin—until that moment. At that moment my great posture, which made it look like I was sticking my chest out, was demolished and what self-esteem I had shrunk back into the shadows of my heart. I started wearing baggy shirts and sweatshirts, only showing my figure when we had a dance, hoping that I could get some satisfaction from a guy, but it never happened—I was ignored.

I wasn’t ignored by the girls who I thought were my best friends, but only one of them ended up deserving that title by the end. I wasn’t ignored by the youth leaders who, unintentionally and without knowledge, made me feel like the slut of the youth group because I had kissed a boy and listened to secular music. I wasn’t ignored by my parents, who had no idea that someone stole my self-esteem. I wasn’t ignored by my teachers, who were better friends to me than some of the people my own age. I wasn’t ignored by the right people, but it didn’t matter, because my head wasn’t in the right place. I went through all of middle and high school looking for gratification from a boy, breaking apart when I was rejected or dumped. The problem was I wasn’t looking for the right attention from the right guy.

Now you are probably reading this and thinking I have parent issues, or my father isn’t in my life. Well, you are wrong. I have an amazing father who loves my mother with all of his heart and we had/have a great relationship!

So it goes to show that even a daughter who has a loving father and knows the love of God can have issues with self-esteem.

When college started knocking at my door I decided I needed new scenery. I had lived in Busco for so long that it became what Margo Roth Spiegelman calls a paper town (I RECOMMEND Paper Towns by John Green!!!!). I even started to feel like a paper girl walking among the paper teens in the hallways of our paper high school. I needed to get away. What I thought I might need is an environment of the spiritual sort. After the long process of searching and visiting colleges I landed on Southeastern University. A Christian college in Florida gave me two things: 1. a spiritual campus & education. 2. Four states between my past and me.

It did not help. My first year I allowed a boy to string me along as his “friend,” who he acted like he was dating when he didn’t have a girlfriend of his choosing. I thought I finally found the “love” I was so desperately searching for. I was blind. My friends couldn’t even talk sense into me. The last week of school I realized what I was allowing him to do and it wasn’t helping my self-esteem. If anything I buried myself deeper and deeper into despair. I found no healing during the summer, but a miracle was about to enter into my life sophomore year.

There was a girl. She lived next door to my roommates and me, but I would have never guessed the journey I was about to embark on. Her name is Bekah. When I met her I learned she was a cheerleader, popular when she was in high school, she was extremely skinny and pretty (she still is :] ), and my first thought was there was no way she would want to be friends with me. All I can say is it was a God thing, because we started hanging out frequently. She was so full of life that I didn’t know what she saw in me as a friend, but she saw a tiny common bond that could flourish. I don’t know if she saw my brokenness as we continued to hang out, but something happened that year. She cracked open my issues, like an egg, spilling out my insecurities, my fears, my hatred toward my appearance–everything.

As we grew as friend through the years little by little I started to love myself again. Little by little I saw what God saw when he looked at me. Little by little I started to become the woman God intended me to be, because I never really saw my calling until I saw myself. My calling? To help young girls see the beauty and importance of who they are. I never could have been the youth group leader I am today without Bekah. I could never have the confidence to be a Jewelry Lady if sophomore year didn’t happen.

How could we have known?

I am thankful for my experiences–good & bad–and I am thankful for a God who is always for me and never against me. If you have a story you want to share about self-image and want me to share, message me or comment. I can always change or take out names, but God gives us these stories for a reason–to share.

God Bless!

Ashley Danielle