little moments.

I began the journey of year 1, quarter 2 this week. There was a lot of anxiety leading up to going back to college, but it turns out that God is in the details and answered many of my prayers. This is how it went. 🙂

~

Monday, 1/7/19

What God reveals, he heals.

After my 8 a.m. chem lecture, I walked into my first freshman seminar: Intro to Reflective and Creative Journaling. It was a one unit, pass/no-pass class with 15 people sitting around a table. It’s very hard to feel like a human in a lecture hall of 500 people, which is the majority of my classes. So this one intrigued me greatly.

We went around the room and said introductions. Practically all of us in the class were taking it to get our lives together this quarter. The professor, Teresa, was young and sweet. Almost every time a classmate mentioned their hometown, she had a story to tell about a time she used to live there. Until we got to one person.

“I’m from New Jersey,” she said.

“Okay haven’t lived there.” Everyone started laughing. “But that’s super cool!”

She went over the syllabus and then talked about herself a little more.

“I want you guys to consider me someone that you can talk to. I don’t know everything, but I can do my best to point you in the right direction. I can help you find tutors and resources and whatever you need. The quarter system is rough. There’s nothing wrong with you guys. It’s the system that isn’t normal. So if things get overwhelming, please come talk to me. College in general is rough. I did my undergrad here, so I’m speaking from experience and know what you guys are going through.”

“I’m really passionate about journaling especially in this new year! My goal is to help you guys achieve a work life balance through journaling while trying new things and having a lot of fun. And I’ll be bringing you guys journals, pens, and washi tape. I buy all that fun stuff with my grad money so everybody wins.”

God’s been revealing to me that I have a junk drawer full of thought patterns I need to get rid of.

I looked around me. We were all imperfect, hoping this class would help us organize our lives in some way. Maybe it was also the perfect opportunity to learn healthier thought patterns. Maybe this was exactly what I needed to heal.

~

Spending time with the Lord.

I brought Ukie (I named my Ukulele Ukie, judge me all you want), to college because he’s small and played him almost every morning. Afterwards I would open my bible and see wherever it took me, and journal relentlessly all of my thoughts and questions.

On Monday God brought me to Romans 5:3 “and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverence, character, and hope.” 

I went on to read Romans 8, which talked about how the mind of a sinful man is death. This is very encouraging. But then it said, “…but the mind of the spirit is life and peace… You are not controlled by the sinful nature but by the spirit, if the spirit of God lives in you. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave to fear, but you received the spirit of sonship.”

Okay, God. That was actually pretty good.  

The next day I found myself in 1 Corinthians 24, which was about running the race set before us for the crown that will last forever. The day after that I found myself in Ecclesiastes, drawn to the truth that the satisfaction from doing work under the sun comes from Him and Him alone. That whole book highlighted to me that it was meaningless to do anything not out of a heart of worship.

So I found myself relentlessly clinging to everything I read each day, because there was no point in doing anything if it was out of the wrong place. I prayed that I would stay grounded and continue to keep my priorities straight throughout the week. I want to know you Lord. I want to hear your voice. I want to see what you see. I want to hear what you hear.

And I found myself more content and motivated to study than I ever had before.

~

Tuesday, 1/8/19

“I want you guys to breathe deeper. Look around, acknowledge the beauty of the space. Close your eyes. Feel the weight of your feet shift forward and backwards…” Tara, my dance instructor said, as we stood in a circle, allowing our minds to clear.

This class was called Intro to Contemporary Dance. In my opinion, it should’ve been called, “Mindfullness, Movement, and Self Care 101, Rolling on the Floor Like A Log and Making Art Edition.” This class was 4 units and didn’t count for anything I needed to graduate, but oh well. My academic advisor made me take it, and I guess I really needed it.

She urged us to feel the floor. To welcome the presence of one another. The only way to accept one another was to also accept ourselves. She emphasized the creation of a safe space, where we were all aware of our own needs and the needs of those around us. My two instructors were both so gentle and their presence made my heart melt.

The first exercise we did was called the leaning exercise. We each grabbed a partner and had to stand next to each other side by side, slowly shifting our weight on the other. Tara and Nicole demonstrated. As they shifted more weight on the other, they checked in with each other to make sure both of their needs were being met and that they both felt safe. It was a mindfullness exercise, designed to make you aware of your surroundings, your needs, and your partner’s. You were both supposed to support each other in a mutual and cooperative fashion.

As my partner and I did it, we saw a Turkey outside the glass window.

“Turkey!” I exclaimed, completely breaking the transcendent, calm, atmosphere. We spent the rest of the exercise concentrating on how its head was bobbing back and forth and laughing, instead of taking deep breaths and being calm. This is why I can’t do yoga.

The point is, I’m not the best mindfullness role model. I am a pretty high-anxiety human who is extremely hyper and is always in a rush. But I’m excited to grow in this. You can’t become good at something if you don’t try. Even if I’m not calm, I desire a spirit that is calm. This exercise brought awareness to how intricate sensory details are, and how being aware of their beauty allows you to be more in touch with who you are. This class would challenge me to slow down for the sake of my own soul.

And then we did another exercise. Nicole laid on the floor while Tara picked up her ankle, and gently pulled it sideways until her whole body flopped over. She did this with both arms as well. Everyone agreed that this exercise was so relaxing. To simply allow yourself to be carried by the movement of one part of the body demonstrated the power and freedom of letting go of control. This mimicked the feeling of a roll, as when we would roll like logs across the floor, we would allow one part of our body to do all the work and keep everything else heavy.

Isn’t that like God though? He’s the one that holds us, and when he moves ever so slightly, we just follow. And it’s so freeing to let go and allow him to just roll us wherever we need to be.

I’m obsessed with this class. This will all be so uncomfortable for me, but I’m excited.

Wednesday, 1/9/19

I had an hour between math and chem discussion, so I biked to the DCF house, grabbed the guitar, and went up to the prayer room. The guitar was missing a string on the bottom, which I appreciated, because it made it far easier to play and far less painful for the girl who has been playing for a little over 2 weeks.

40 minutes later, my spirit was renewed, and heart was re-centered on worship again. Sometimes the short moments that don’t seem extravagant end up being some of the most important ones.

~

Thursday, 1/10/19

I got to meet with Michela, my small group leader today. I met her right after my math discussion and we just sat down and talked. I told her about all the encounters I’ve had since break and all the changes I’ve been trying to make. I don’t know how to capture conversations. They are just too amazing.

An hour later, we both prayed. I went first.

“God, I just thank you that I’ve gotten to see Lea grow since the beginning of this year. I thank you for continuing to transform her mind. I pray she would keep having the encounters she does, and she would keep looking for you in everything she does…” Michela started.

I love her so much.

~

Friday, 1/11/19

A shooting had happened last night in Downtown Davis shortly after I met with Michela. I was able to get back to my dorm before the shelter in place, thankfully. I won’t get into the details, but it was devastating.

So today Will, Madeline, and Camille were taking leftover pizza and Chick-fil A from the lunch they hosted around campus and giving it out for free in an effort to bring some joy back to the campus. I ran into them after my math lecture just trying to love on people.

“Can I join?”

“Of course!”

So I carried the DCF cards as we went up to random people and handed out free food. We got to tell people about who we were and show others that they were loved. We had a wheel that people could spin but it didn’t really matter what number it landed on because we just gave everybody what they wanted. Pastor Will just knew exactly what to say to everyone to make them smile.

And that was a wrap to my first week back in college. Despite taking a 17-unit course load and being slightly overwhelmed in the beginning, all of these things happened too. I love all my classes, even my academic ones. In everything I do, I get to do it for the One. I can’t capture how amazing being back has been with justice, but just take my word for it. Week 1 has left my heart so full.

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Reaching Out

On Tuesday, I went running and saw a dog. It was white and tiny with super curly hair, and it was just chilling in the grass and marking it’s territory. I stopped and started petting the random dog. It came straight to me and sat down, smiling with its tongue out as I continued to pet it.

It turned out to belong to one of my friend’s neighbors. She was looking for him because she had let him out earlier, and happened to find me petting it.

We knew each other but not really.

“Hey! You go to Davis right?” She asked me.

“Yeah! Sorry for petting your dog,” I said.

“No, it’s totally fine!”

We started talking. Slowly, she began to unravel with me what had been going on in her life. She had transferred schools every year of high school as she couldn’t find a school where she felt she fit in, and was now in her senior year at yet another new school. Last year she attended the same high school as me, and I had sort of known her because I had graded some of her papers when I was a T.A. But she continued to share with me what was going on underneath the numbers. She opened up about her harsh parents, but mostly how her mom would yell at her and sometimes hit her. She told me she wasn’t really trying in school anymore and was unsure of she wanted to do. She opened up about having to see a therapist, but then went on to explain how her therapist avoided her problems and made her feel like a burden. She felt like her therapist wanted to just put her on meds and get rid of her. She had recently stopped seeing that therapist, thank God, but still felt like there was something wrong with her. And as she continued to share her life with me, my heart just broke.

Chowder, the dog, was shivering so she picked him up and we walked around the neighborhood and continued talking. She played ice hockey and the ice rink I used to figure skate at. She felt alone and like everyone was giving up on her. Her pets were the one thing that kept her happy. I was at a loss for words, so I shared my testimony with her. I told her that I used to be broken and I used to try to put my self worth in so many things, but then God transformed my life in ways I never even knew possible. I told her about my healing high school experience, the community I found in college, and the miracles that happen to me all the time. She was open to it.

“You are so loved,” I stressed the whole way. “And I believe in a God who is always just dying to show us how much He loves us. When we work from a place of knowing how much we are worth, life is just so much more meaningful.”

I walked her back to her house where she showed me her chinchilla (it was so freaking cute omg). She let me feed it and my heart just exploded in happiness. About an hour and a half had passed since I had left the house to go for a run.

“Hey, I should probably head home now, but can I pray for you before I go?”

“Yeah!”

So under the evening sky, I laid a hand on her shoulder and began to pray. “God, I really believe it was no accident that we met today. I pray that you would reveal to her that she is so loved. That there is so much more worth living for than what she thinks. That you want to heal her and take away her pain. That the plans you have for her are more than she could ever dream possible. God, I just pray if there are any fears in her heart right now that you would just replace them with peace. I pray she would feel your presence right here, right now. That you would meet her right here where she is at, and meet all of her needs.”

“Amen.” We both looked up.

“Wow. Thank you. You should talk to one of my Christian friends. You would be a great role model for her,” she said.

I smiled. “Thank you for letting me pray for you. So glad I ran into you today.”

I ran home and texted her my therapists’ info as I had promised. To follow up I said, “If you ever need anything, I’m here. Keep fighting until you find something beautiful and worth living for.”

But I text a lot of people that, hoping they will text me when something happens. I didn’t think she would actually reach out to me.

~

The next day I met with the teacher I T.Aed for first semester of senior year for coffee and we catched up on what God had been doing in our lives. Later that evening, I got dinner with a bunch of my high school friends and seeing them made me so happy. I was taking my friend Bri home when I missed her house. We wanted to talk more anyways, so I just kept driving in circles until we had sufficiently caught up on life. We had both grown so much since we graduated.

Around 10:30p.m, I got a text from the girl I ran into the previous day asking me if I was still up. I was just about to leave Bri’s house.

“Yeah, I’m at a friend’s house but I’m coming home now. What’s up?”

“Can I stay at your place tonight? I’ll pay you and leave the next thing.”

My heart skipped a beat. I called her.

“Hey. What’s going on?”

“I’m scared my mom is going to kick me out of the house,” she said, distraught. “So I left before she could kick me out.”

“Where are you right now?”

“Just in the neighborhood.”

I paused for a second, trying to gather my thoughts.

“I don’t know what to do. I’m going to get home, and then can I call you again?’

“Yeah.”

“Okay cool. Hang tight.”

I was scared. So once I knew where I was on the road again, I asked Siri to call my dad.

“Hello?” he answered.

“Hi. First, I know it’s kind of late so I’m just letting you know that I’m on my way home and I’m not dead. Second, one of my friends is in a crisis and asked me if she could stay at our house.” I explained the situation a little bit more.

“Well, I think if she doesn’t go home that’s going to cause even more problems. I think you should try to convince her to go back home. If she really can’t, I don’t care if she stays at our house. But that’s like kidnapping her, if her parents don’t know.”

“I think so too. She said she’s on the street, so I was going to pick her up and talk to her more for now.”

“Sounds good. Text me if you need anything.” He hangs up. Thanks, dad.

When I got home, I called her again and asked her where she was. I drove around my neighborhood until I found her. She was sitting on the sidewalk corner behind a big truck.

I rolled down my window. “Hey girl. Get in my car.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. I’m not leaving you here.” She had 2 suitcases and a backpack and I could tell she had been crying. It was pretty cold outside as well.

“This is what we’re going to do. We’re gonna talk about this until we figure out what the best thing to do is. But I’m not leaving you until we do.”

More stories unravel about her mom kicking her out before. She had gotten a speeding ticket the other day, and her dad yelled at her like crazy so she was afraid her mom would kick her out again.

“What is going through your head right this instant?” I asked, as we drove around and talked.

“I’m just really scared of my mom,” she said, anxiously.

My dad ended up coming in the car with me because I wasn’t sure what to do. I told her my dad was cool and would stand up for her. He talked to her gently, telling her a story about his cousin who ran away from home once, and the beautiful life she has now. He assured her that her parents loved her, that maybe sometimes their actions didn’t come off that way, but that they were probably worried about her. Yes, that speeding ticket wasn’t the best decision in the world, but she had the power to move on from that. He even offered to pay for it if her parents had a problem with the cost.

I drove up to her house and my dad went in first. He wanted to talk to her parents. They weren’t home, so he ended up talking to her brother instead. Her brother didn’t know she was on the street, and thought she was just hanging out with friends or something.  We talked to both of them for a little bit longer, telling her that she is welcome to stay the night at our house but only if her parents know that she is there. She ended up deciding to stay home. Her brother helped her take her suitcases out of my car and then we hugged and parted ways.

I thanked my dad when we got home. I wouldn’t have been able to handle that one on my own. I was super thankful she called me, but have been still trying to figure out how I’m supposed to love people in the best way possible. My dad, as a parent, knew what to say this time. And he was beginning to realize that I have a lot of encounters with people.

“These things seem to happen to you all the time. Maybe it is your calling,” he said.

~

I texted her that night, telling her I was so thankful she reached out to me and reminded her that she may not have gotten to choose her parents or her circumstances, but she does get to choose what she makes of them and that none of her past decisions have to define her. I reminded her that she was loved.

As I continued to meet with mentors and friends that week, I couldn’t help but stress that none of that would’ve happened if I didn’t pet that dog. People judge my need to pet every dog I see on the street so hard! I’m serious. But look at that. God uses everything. I’ve been continuously checking in with her these last few days. And I’m going to keep praying for her, believing that it was no accident that I pet her dog, and no accident that we met. Encounters like this are what I am just so passionate about. I believe in healing and restoration. And I believe those things start when we reach out with an open, intentional heart.

I reach out and then you find me in the dust

You say no amount of untruth, could ever separate us…

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How I Spend Time With God

Intentional. That has been the word on my heart for the last few weeks. There are some intentional people in my life that always ask me, “How are you?” I usually answer with an adjective, and maybe some anecdotes about my crazy, abundant life. I think that I give a good answer or at least a better one than the classic and many times fake, “I’m doing well.” But then they ask, “How’s your soul doing?” And follow it up with, “How’s your time with the Lord been?” Those questions are easy to dodge with a one word answer. But then they say, “What has He been speaking to you lately?” And every time someone asks me that question, my heart just melts because I can’t believe God put people in my life that care about the condition of my heart and soul. It’s not a question the average person asks, and it always shifts my perspective back to Jesus.

These people have inspired me to live a lot more intentionally. My main goal of 2019 is simply to put God before everything. I want my time with God to be congruent with the time I spend doing every day tasks. What we do with the talents we’ve been given is our gift back to the Lord. We’ve all been created with such unique gifts, so the way I spend time with God is going to look different from the way you spend time with God. Spending time with the Lord shouldn’t feel like some tedious routine that you have to do, because that’s religion. We are called to work from a place of rest and worship, and give God the glory in everything we do because we love Him. It takes time. There’s no rush. We’re not in a hurry when it comes to His presence or voice, and the more we press in and desire to hear it, the more evident it becomes.

So I’ve been trying to spend as much time with the Lord as possible these last few weeks before I have to go back to college! Since it is so important, I wanted to briefly share what time with the Lord looks like for me. 🙂

~

Worship music. I am so obsessed with worship music and find myself spending more time praising God through it than any other way. This is my easy way. I am a worship leader after all and am always looking up chords, learning them on the piano, and singing my heart out. To spice things up a bit, some friends in college inspired me to take up learning the guitar. So I took the guitar that’s been lying around my house, tuned it and claimed it as my own. It has been so much fun learning to play worship songs on it, and though my fingers hurt so much I am very happy with the extent of songs I can play (since many worship songs are the same 4 chords). Another friend inspired me to take up the ukulele claiming it hurt less than the guitar, so I got one for Christmas and have been learning that as well. Being able to worship in all these different ways brings me so much joy.

I play worship music while I’m driving, cleaning, showering, running, studying (really need to stop doing that), or sometimes I just have a song on my heart that I want to sing, so I play it, allow the music to fill the room, and lift my hands. Sometimes I play worship music and have an improv dance session around the house and allow the words to flow throughout my body. Sometimes I sit and listen, and sometimes I belt the words as loud as I can. It just depends on what’s on my heart and what my soul is longing to do. When I go running, many times I stop on the trail to lift my hands during a song and simply take in the beauty of this earth. Many times I stop to dance. I’m learning that there is no right way to be aware of the presence of the Lord.

I pray. I pray very imperfect and honest prayers throughout my day. I pray the, “please save me from this test,” and “take all my pain away” prayers a lot in the moment. I’m human. But an intentional prayer for me is anytime I take a step back and acknowledge that I need God with me in the battle throughout the day. Sometimes I stumble upon random pieces of scripture that speak to me. If I’m praying and someone pops into my head, I’ll usually pray for that person and then text them the verse or word of encouragement. So many times people text me back saying they were just thinking of me or that they really needed it, and it blows my mind so I keep doing it. I’m always praying for healing, strength, courage, and peace. I pray for wisdom and the courage to be grateful.

I pray for God to reveal my heart posture to me. I want to know if my relationship with the Lord is being fueled by anything other than love. I want to know what I’m truly anxious about and where those anxieties are coming from. I ask God if I’m striving. The answer is usually yes. And then I ask for grace upon grace.

Sometimes I pray in tongues. They call it a heavenly and personal prayer language. I received it after praying for it for so long, and the whole concept is still crazy and new to me. I don’t know how I’m supposed to be using tongues yet, but when it’s on my heart to pray in tongues I will.

I read the Bible. This is the one I’m the worst at, but it’s so important and I’ve been noticing how much my heart just craves to read it. When I read the Bible, I have no plan. I just open it, trusting that I’m going to turn to whatever I need to see in that moment. I was telling Ezequiel one day about the lies go through my head. And he asked me, “Where in scripture can you prove that they’re lies?” That question has been one that I am always trying to answer as I try to navigate my way through the waters of college.

I also write stuff. I got a word once about how God speaks to me through my writing, and it was so spot on. Writing always helps me find my way back to the Lord and brings me closer to Him in general. At this point in time, my blog has become my journal. It’s raw, real, and so imperfect, and it captures all the time I spend wrestling and struggling along with all of my breakthroughs. I have many revelations writing as it points me back to Jesus.

And I spend time with people. I always feel like I need to figure out how to heal on my own by spending more time alone with God. While that is important, I’m learning that the people in my life have been the reason why my faith skyrocketed this quarter. I struggled, healed, and grew so much. God gives us community to highlight how much He loves us, and He speaks through others all the time. We were designed to be codependent, and where two or more gather in His name, He is there. My time with the Lord is time I spend in small group, large group, and church. These are the places I ask all my questions and they keep me from doing my walk with God alone. I love retreats, conferences, and worship nights. You don’t have to go to those to hear from God, but I tend to find myself at these kind of things a lot simply because I love them. I experience a lot of spiritual highs, not because I chase them, but because God likes to meet me in pretty unreal ways.

And because so many people pour into me, I try to pour into others. I got to take one of my girls for an adventure downtown and another one of my girls ice skating. I’m growing into this mentor thing. There are people in my life that just carry a presence that makes them so easy to be vulnerable with, and I’m still trying to figure out how I can be as amazing as my mentors for my girls while still being me. But it made me so happy to get to ask them, “How has your walk with the Lord been? And what has he been speaking to you?” Because their souls are so important. And I love them so much.

So how has your walk with the Lord been? And what has he been speaking to you?Happy New Years!!! 💗

Falling.

This past week I’ve been leading worship, spending time with my family, spending time with the Lord, going on runs, teaching myself how to play the guitar, driving around rich neighborhoods to admire Christmas lights, buying people Christmas presents, working out, ice skating, catching up on sleep, watching The Good Doctor and New Amsterdam, and eating sushi late at night. Every day of break I spend at home, I heal a little bit more from the academic wilderness that beat me up in my first quarter of college. Basically, I have 2 weeks to figure out how I am supposed to find the strength to go back.

Yesterday, I went ice skating for the first time in about 3 years. I didn’t lose as much I thought. I could still land my axel and a split jump. I could still do a one foot spin. It was pure joy to simply be back on the ice, and it brought back so many memories from when I was 13 years old and skating was my everything.

These 2 girls asked me if I could take a picture for them. Afterwards, one of them tried to step forward, slipped, and let out a little shriek. She freaked out, laughing as she tried to gain her balance. After she was standing again, she asked me, laughing, “How do you do this?” And she pointed at my skates.

“Heel to toe!” I said, laughing. I demonstrated the movement slowly. “Or you can just shuffle.”

She tried, lost balance, and then grabbed the wall laughing. “I just can’t!” She said.

“Here, I got you. I’ll take you around.” I turned around and held out my hands. I skated backwards with her hands in mine, as she continued to scream, struggle, snd laugh while her best friend laughed with her and tried to hold her as well.

“How long did it take you to get so good?” She asked me.

“I skated for about 2 years and then I quit,” I said. “But, we all start exactly the way you are. It’s totally okay.”

“Wow,” She said, in disbelief.

“You can’t be afraid to fall!” I told her, laughing. “You got this!”

Figure skating is one of the most freeing sports of all time. But trying to move on slippery ice with blades under your feet is quite the scary concept. Falling is just part of the sport. If you ever go ice skating, even if you aren’t trying to do anything extravagant, you will probably wake up the next day with your entire lower body hurting from stretching all your muscles. That’s also just part of it. When I was 13, I figured out that the only way to truly skate was to not be afraid of falling. Not because figure skaters are invincible, but because we were so used to it. We would say, “Fall seven times stand up eight.” Getting up after a fall was simply what we did.

But let’s face it. The reality is that we are human and do not want to fall. So we use the jump harness. Or hold back. I can’t tell you how many times yesterday I prepped for a jump or spin and didn’t follow through because I was afraid of falling. But the second the jump harness comes off, you’re back on the ice. And somehow you have to find the courage to try that jump that you have never landed before again. You probably had some really hard falls from attempting that jump. The thought of landing sounds scary because you don’t know what it’s going to feel like. You have no idea if you are doing it right. And the only way to learn is to try. A lot of times, you finally muster up the courage to try again, and you fall for the millionth time. Hard. But you get up again and again. Eventually, you land it. But landing it once doesn’t make you invincible from face planting on that same skill. What matters is not how many times you succeed or fall. What matters is that you keep getting up. Skating, like everything, is more of a mental battle than a physical one.

And what keeps a figure skater going is love. The adrenaline and rush is so special. The sound of landing a jump is so crisp, clean, and satisfying. If you are okay with falling, you get to try all these cool things that are so incredibly scary, and the whole journey of learning and messing up is just so much fun.

I was thinking about this because I finished the quarter with an A-, B, and a C. I finished with the whole alphabet. On one hand, I am grateful I passed everything. On the other hand, I am frustrated because I worked so hard. My grades do not reflect that I am a good student, and good students are supposed to get good grades. I tried and I fell. It’s my first quarter. I am learning so much. But even though I fell, it was still a step forward. No fall is ever a step back.

And if you aren’t falling, are you really living vulnerably? Are you really living the most meaningful life you could be living? Are you sure that you are growing? Because the people I look up to are not people that have never failed, but people who pressed on anyways.

“I had an exam to get my master’s the other day,” Anna told me. “God told me to spend time with him instead of study. So I listened, and I didn’t study at all. And I went into that test telling God it would be a miracle if I passed because I didn’t study. I had failed it once before. And, I passed. So I don’t know. I hope that encourages you,” she said.

I met another girl at church, Katie, who told me that her first semester of college was bad. She was frustrated because she had to drop a class and wondered if she would make it. But then she found a passion for Sociology and got into a prestigious social work problem later on, and is now going to graduate school to maybe go into counseling, like Anna (who is a therapist).

And then I thought of my math tutor, Ezequiel, who had said sort of the same thing. He came to UC Davis as a freshman but ended up having to go back to community college because he was living a broken life and was on academic probation. But one day the Lord set him free, and told him to major in math. He transferred to Davis this year as a junior. He told me that he was studying for a test that his professor told them nobody would pass. While he was studying, God told him to stop. So he stopped. During the test, he asked God to illuminate each problem for him. He ended up getting over 100%.

So, how do you have the strength to get up when you fall?

~

Anna asked if she could pray over me before I left. She asked some of her friends to join her. She prayed that I would be working from a place of rest and worship. She prayed for strength and peace to keep going in the midst of hardship.

When she finished, one of her friends touched my shoulder.

“Hey, I just had a quick word for you before you go,” he said.

“Go for it.”

“I feel like there was a time in your life when you didn’t know who you were. And then a bunch of women surrounded you and prayed over you, and they broke off all the lies you were believing about yourself. And I just feel the Lord trying to tell you that you blossom wherever you go. That’s just who you are. I just see you blossoming in every aspect of your life.”

“Wow,” I said. “God gave you that?”

“Yep.”

“What’s your name?”

“Brandon,” he said, smiling.

“I’m Lea,” I shook his hand. “There was a point in college when I was just striving, and a bunch of women did surround me and break off all the lies I was believing about myself. But the journey didn’t end there.”

He smiled. “Lea, just hold out your hands. Just like that.”

I held them out in front of me.

“Just say, ‘God, thank you for understanding me. Thank you for loving me. ‘” I nodded.

“Say it,” he urged, gently.

“Thank you for understanding me. Thank you for loving me,” I repeated.

“I trust that you want what’s best for me,” he said.

“I trust that you want what’s best for me.”

“And I trust that you’re going to go there with me,” he said.

“I trust that you’re going to go there with me,” I repeated.

Winning the battle doesn’t depend on how great you are on the battlefield. It doesn’t depend on how many times you fall. It doesn’t depend on how hard those falls are or how broken you think you are. It doesn’t depend on how much more talented everyone else around you seems to be. You just have to love the Lord so much that you can’t help but want to surrender.

Christianity is not about behavior modification, but heart transformation. Falling deeper in love, learning, and healing is all about surrender. Love is the only way to get up after a hard fall. Love is the only way to have joy in the midst of the journey. And it doesn’t matter how many times you fall, because Jesus already paid the price for each one. Jesus already paid the price for everything we could possibly screw up on this earth. He did this so we could live unafraid to fall. He didn’t make us invincible from falling, but he paid the price so we could still be connected to Him, so we could experience real life. A real life that is full of ups and downs and beautiful, sappy moments. He did it out of love so we could experience the true joy of love.

So lift your hands. Close your eyes. Sing it out. Begin to lean closer and closer to Him. The strength to keep going doesn’t come from you. You can try to figure out how to run faster and be better or whatnot. Or you can simply fall, and fall into his arms. The second you surrender, God is in the battle. Do you know that he has equipped you uniquely for all the battles you will face? Do you know that questioning your ability to make it is completely normal if God is calling you to things that have never been done before? And God will win all your battles because He knows what is best for you and wants so badly to give you the desires of your heart. He’s after your heart, not your performance. He wants to take away your pain, the pain from falling, but not your joy.

“That’s all you gotta do,” he said.

Merry Christmas guys!! 💗

Striving vs. Excellence

“Even though college has been really hard, I’m so grateful that I get to go to Davis. I’ve experienced too many blessings to count,” I had told my therapist, after a long exploration of the thoughts I’d been encountering since the beginning of college.

“Yeah. But can you think of something to be grateful for when you are sitting on the staircase crying?” She asked me.

“I am actually so grateful that I cried on that staircase,” I had said. Those tears led to rolling into my friend’s small group, to the word Ysabel gave me, to the breakdown, to calling Michela, to Fall Retreat, and to my academic advisor intervening. And the stairwell in my dorm has officially become my secret place. Looking back, of all the beautiful places there are on campus, I have my greatest revelations in that cold, grey and gloomy space. 

It was an ironic question, because in the last 3 weeks of the quarter, I found myself on the stairwell a lot. The second day back from the Thanksgiving break we weren’t supposed to have (because of the California fires), I found myself holding another inadequate test score, succumbing to another wave of extreme frustration, wondering how I did so badly on a test I thought was so easy. Another wave of relentless, all-too familiar thoughts attacked, telling me that I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, or strong enough, followed by judging myself for how terrible I was at handling failure and my emotions. At first, I told myself it’s okay. Your whole friend group did better than you even though you studied like crazy and went to office hours and actually thought you knew stuff. But you can’t change what happened, so now you need to study really hard for your bio midterm and last math midterm to make up for it. And I sat down and opened my laptop, tired from an already extremely busy day, ready to take the 79.8%, stuff the emotion down and move on. 

And then I stopped myself. 

My heart posture had changed. My first instinct to cope with failure was to begin striving again. And remembering where the last striving cycle left me, I closed my laptop, texted my friend Danielle and my youth leader Britt from back home, and instead tried to spend some time with God. My thoughts didn’t allow that to happen. I tried to find something to be grateful for, but I could only think about the midterm I had the following day and the other one I had at the end of the week and how I should be studying instead of going through the motions about something I couldn’t control.

So I found myself on the stairwell, freaking out, on the edge of a striving relapse. I was crying on the staircase and I couldn’t find something to be grateful for. Danielle called me shortly after I texted her. 

“Lea, If you want to fight this battle, fight. Don’t let the enemy walk all over you like this. You are trying to climb this mountain with a backpack full of bricks. God doesn’t promise that there won’t be a mountain, but he does call us to climb the mountain with our hands wide open.”

“Every time a thought comes into your head that says you’re not smart enough, you need to take that thought and hold it captive before it takes a hold of you. I know you’ve been trying to do this already, but maybe instead of asking God what he says about you, just thank God for what he says about you. You already know what He says about you. When you don’t feel smart enough, thank God for the beautiful mind He gave you. When you don’t feel strong enough, thank God for always giving you the strength you need to fight your battles.”

After she prayed for me, something clicked. A string formed between memories of all the things people had me declare over myself, to the self-compassion I had been trying to learn, to the promises gratitude releases that I know and have experienced before. Gratitude is the opposite of scarcity. Gratitude points back to Jesus. Suddenly, that verse about taking every thought captive and making it obedient to Christ that is somewhere in 2nd Corinthians made sense. I grabbed my journal and filled the page with declarations, and with my flashlight under my covers thanked God for every single thing on that list before I went to sleep. 

And it didn’t change my circumstances but it changed everything. Throughout my impossible bio midterm, I found myself thanking God that it would never define me or hinder my future. Thank you God that I have a beautiful mind. Thank you God that I am enough. The next day my allergies were bad and I felt super under the weather, but I kept thanking God for giving me the strength to do everything. Thank you God for giving me a body that is capable of healing itself. I took the fattest nap I’d ever taken and woke up so well rested, but was tempted to be angry at myself for sleeping when I should’ve been studying. Instead, I thanked God for giving me rest. 

Then, I left my phone in one of the farthest lecture halls from my dorm after the math review session from 8-10p.m. I was about to bike in the pouring rain to go fetch it at 11p.m, but my small group leader, Michela, who lives closer to that hall took her housemates on a mission where they convinced the janitors to let them in, found my phone, and then drove it up to my dorm for me. I began to notice that the days I feel the most loved are the ones where I screw up the most. 

Danielle checked in with me a few days later and I told her all of this. “I think I just needed to be reminded what it means to fight the battle. Because these next few weeks are going to suck so badly but also be so amazing, and they’re not going to get to me, you know? We’re able to thank God for things before they happen because the battle has already been won.”

“YESS LEA! PREACH. You’re going to make me cry!” She replied, passionately. 

She texted me 1st Thessalonians 5:16: “In everything we give thanks, for this is the will of God for your life.” When we claim that truth, we can begin to see things differently. 

So I’ve been training my mind to resort to gratitude rather than all the unsustainable, intrusive, trash it’s been resorting to for so long. I am learning to sing praise before my breakthrough until my song becomes my triumph.

It’s not easy. Some days my thoughts are so intrusive it feels hopeless to even try. There are days where the words of gratitude I am declaring over myself sound so cheesy and fake. Some days I fall into the trap of comparison. Some days my brain is so fried it seems far easier to accept the lie that I can’t do anything right. On those days, I don’t pray for God to take away the mountain, but I ask Him to help me love the journey of climbing. I don’t pray for God to take away my anxiety anymore, but I do declare that it has no power over me. Because the days where life feels like a series of letdowns that happen one after the other are the days where we have all the more reason to say “thank you.” Thank you God for surrounding me when I’m surrounded. Thank you God for doing all the heavy lifting. Thank you for making me a survivor when I was a victim. Thank you for giving me the power to change my perspective. And thank you for loving me through it all. 

Some days I sit on the stairwell thanking God for giving me peace when I feel the most anxious. Some days I am so happy, until I find out I did worse than the entire class on something, and I find myself trying to give thanks through my tears. Other days I sit on the stairwell thanking God for giving me strength when I feel the most depleted. Many days I am so tempted to scream at the world in anger, “I’m just not smart. I don’t know how to take these tests. Even my roommate is complaining about how screwed she is when I always do worse than her. I might actually fail this class. I’m not overreacting. Do you not understand?” And on those days I am on the phone with my youth leader Britt from back home, closing my eyes with my hands held open in front of me as she prays for God to meet me right where I am, in the storm of my head, in my dorm room stairwell. When I’m too consumed in my head to thank God for anything, I thank God for giving me people that let the light in my storm. I thank God for people who pick me up when I fail and tell me that yeah, you did really bad there. But you were brave. I’m not disappointed in you. In fact, I’m proud of you for reaching out. I’m proud of you for your heart. Keep going. I believe in you. And know I’m always right here when you fall. 

I thank God for the little moments. One day I went to see my Sociology TA, Tanaya, at 3 because I couldn’t make her office hours. She checked my thesis, answered my questions, and then walked to class with me because class started at 4. She was leaving for India in a few days, and we talked the whole way. She thanked me for walking with her, told me to email her if I needed anything, and then wished me all the best once we arrived at lecture. Thank you God one of my TAs knows me by name when none of my professors do. On the last day of bio, they did a review session for the final and my professors wanted a volunteer to help design an experiment with the class. None of the other 500 people in my class wanted to go, so I volunteered willingly, galloped up there and asked my professor, “What am I doing again?” The stoic class finally erupted in laughter. She wanted me to test whether the presence of one species inhibited the growth of the other. I drew two boxes and labeled them with each treatment. She asked the class how we could incorporate a temperature factor. Crickets. Nobody raised their hand. So I said, “fire”. I was holding her mic too. I drew two correct graphs before I ran off the stage, I promise. Thank you God that even if I fail this class, at least my professors will remember me as the girl who wanted to set her experiment on fire. 

And finals week definitely sucked. I blasted “Prince of Peace” by Hillsong in my ears as I re-wrote notes, created study sheets, and crunched numbers. My roommate and I had movie nights re-watching lectures about nutrient cycles and memorized evolution time periods for hours. But it was also amazing, because I was learning to take care of myself. I went to the gym every day to clear my mind between the a.m-p.m study grinds and fueled my body well. I was learning to be grateful in the storm, or find a diamond in the desert.

And I’m expecting my final grades to not be so hot. My first quarter GPA will probably be trash. This is very hard for me to swallow, and will be even harder for people back at home who thought I was smart to swallow. And can I just say that if you thought I was better than that or you think I shouldn’t be failing then you are really missing the point? Because I’ve spent my whole life trying to prove I was smart enough, only to find that even when I managed to pull a 4.6 GPA first semester of senior year that I still wasn’t “smart”. Smart doesn’t exist. I could chase it all my life, and I would never arrive. And can I just say that I’ve never been happier? Not because I’m proud of my grades but because I’m healthy, I survived my first quarter, and I am content with the intelligence I have. I’m not settling for mediocre grades, failure, or complacency by any means. This isn’t the end. But I am saying I can have joy when my best is mediocre. And after a whole life-time of wondering when my best would ever be enough, I understand now why it is.

There is a difference between striving and excellence.

Striving is trying to impress the world with everything we can do. Striving points back to us. It never arrives, it’s never satisfied, and it’s never good enough. Striving is a heart posture of, “I need to do this in order to be enough.” It’s chasing expectations that don’t exist, climbing endless ladders that lead to burnout and bondage in an effort to prove we are worth something.

But excellence is giving God our best as a gift. It’s being so in love with the Lord that you can’t help but want to give Him any less than your absolute best. It’s a heart posture that is so grateful for what He has given you that you want to steward those gifts well. It’s not about what other people think, but what God thinks, which makes excellence matter most when nobody is watching.

Excellence has a grace on it that striving does not. My 68% on a test sometimes isn’t the best, but if I gave it my everything at the time then it was excellent. Sometimes the result of 68% on my lab practical, 2 points below the class average, is just as excellent as the 96% I got on my last math midterm. Sometimes the straight As I got only twice in high school are just as excellent as the straight Cs I might get here. Sometimes the study sessions that seem to accomplish nothing are just as excellent as the ones where I manage to re-do every homework problem or memorize multiple chapters of information. A lot of times I do worse on tests than everyone I talk to, but that 54% was still excellent. A lot of days I am really grateful that my 54% was not 10%. I’m grateful that when my best is a literal F, God still makes a way. As long as my heart posture is to bring God my very best, it doesn’t matter if the world says I’m failing. I can find joy in my ability to worship Him because my heart matters more than the amount.

Excellence is having a spirit of gratitude rather than poverty. It’s working from a place of, “I am so grateful for what I have” instead of  “never enough.” It’s a heart posture of abundance rather than scarcity. You can have everything and have a spirit of poverty. Or you can have nothing and have a spirit of gratitude. Your heart posture has nothing to do with what you have.

It’s wanting to always improve, not because we need to improve to be enough, but because we want to continually give God our very best. Excellence is not coping with failure by becoming apathetic and deciding you don’t care about the result. We can’t give God our best if we don’t care about the results. Excellence is being able to accept that sometimes our best isn’t making it to the top of the food chain, but knowing that there are arms of grace there to catch us throughout the journey and being able to discern our flaws from our core identity and self worth.

So today my heart desires this: to love so strongly that I fail perfectly. To climb the mountain with my hands wide open. To have the courage to risk falling, hard, but trying anyways because that is what I’m called to do. To live my life as an act of gratitude and worship. To live imperfectly but fearlessly. And to give God my absolute best in everything. Not in an effort to prove my worth, but to steward all the gifts he’s given me well in this crazy abundant life I get to live.

I want to have the courage to be thankful in the midst of uncertainty. The courage to be okay with failing. The courage to worship when everything is crashing down and when my anxiety feels demonic. The courage to be weak and still give the little that I have.

I want to have the courage to improve and persevere. I have plans to meet with a success coach and learning strategist. I plan to attend test-taking workshops to figure out my problem with multiple choice tests. This is so that the best I can give as an offering can slowly become less and less tainted with my doubt. 

I want to have the courage to love and be loved regardless of my circumstances. To know that love surrounds me when my thoughts wage war. That love guards my heart when fear tries to tear me apart. When I think the storm will never end He says, “watch the giants fall.” His love tears through the night and rides on the storm, meeting me when my head is buried in my hands in my dorm room stairwell. For this, I can’t help but sing in the shower. I can’t help but lift my hands while brushing my teeth and walk into every season with a smile.

For this, I am so, incredibly grateful.  

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P.S: I took a break from blogging so I could give my finals my everything! There will be changes in the frequency of my posting, just because I don’t want this blog to be something I have to keep up with, but rather something that can continue to capture my journey through college. Thank you so much for 300 followers and sticking through my journey with me. It has taken me a lot longer to get to 300 than the average blogger which makes it so much more special. I am so grateful to be able to share this with you. I will be blogging all throughout undergrad and hopefully med school and wherever I end up after that. Love you all so much! ❤ 

Come home.

You were born in love, you will die in love, and you are held in love every second in between. Home is love. And love is where you belong.

The Butte County fires eradicated so many people’s homes. It affected all of us, even though where I live is far away from the fires. My college campus looked like an apocalypse last week as everyone was wearing masks due to hazardous air quality. Our classes got canceled because it wasn’t safe for people to be outside. Our 3 day weekend turned into a 4 day weekend. Our 4 day weekend turned into a 5 day weekend, which turned into a “God must be really looking out for us who have midterms today.” But then 5 days turned to 6 and then the rest of the week, and then until the week after Thanksgiving. It created so many problems for workers and professors and students. But forget about what we’ve been going through. If we’ve been affected by the fires this far away, I can’t even imagine how bad things are closer up. My heart is broken for all the people I go to school with that are from there who have lost so much. Tragedy like that really puts gratitude into perspective. We all have so much to be grateful for.

So we were confined to our dorms the whole week before Thanksgiving hardcore studying from a.m to p.m. By Thursday I was going insane, and when they texted us that Friday classes were canceled my brother called me and asked me if I wanted to go home with him as he had been stuck in his apartment the whole week too.

“Yeah, I think it’s time to go home,” I told him.

Home. What is home?

Davis has become home to me. I’ve found mentors, friends, and the best community I’ve ever had. I’ve adjusted to the dorm life, become obsessed with the dining hall, and have adopted the cows outside my building as pets. I’ve learned to bike with my hands off the handlebars and study like crazy every day. And I’ve learned to be so thankful for what I have here, because this is such a special time.

But in the process of making UC Davis my home, I had also made a home in my anxiety and my fear. I began to strive like no other, carrying a weight on my shoulders that I wasn’t meant to carry. I had made a home in a game of jenga where every block was a pressure to perform, becoming more and more unsteady trying to do things out of my own strength. I made a home with scarcity and believed that I didn’t deserve anything more. I made a home with constantly judging myself for the thoughts that I had, believing that I didn’t deserve grace or self-compassion.

And that wasn’t where I belonged. God had been chasing me down, stretching his hand out to me as I drowned in the sea pleading, “Lea, it’s time to come home.”

~

I thought God was done with me after fall retreat. I thought I was set free over the weekend somehow and that the process of healing was finished. I was so wrong.

I had an academic advising appointment 2 days after the retreat with Health Professions Advising to get my schedule checked for next quarter. I almost forgot about it.

Manisha, my advisor, was so gentle and warm. I don’t know how, but so much came out that I wasn’t planning on talking about. I told her about how I’ve been struggling in all my classes, all the resources I tried that were unhelpful and the resources I discovered that were amazing. I also told her a little bit of my high school story of nearly failing algebra, the multiple panic attacks I had freshman year, the counselor that told me to drop the class, and about not listening to her because I believed there was nothing to learn from giving up. I told her how shocked people were when I got a 5 on the Calculus BC exam senior year because there were people who thought I couldn’t do it.

“And it now it’s kinda like back to square one,” I said.

She nodded, and smiled.

“Well, it sounds like it took you a little bit of time to figure out the transition from junior high to high school, and you kept going and you made it. And I have no doubt that the same thing is going to happen here. You’re reaching out early, because you’ve been in this place before and you know what to do,” she said.

She takes a slow breath. “You keep mentioning the word breakdown. Do you have those often?”

“Not like super often, but I did have one last week,” I said, and explained what happened.

“Okay I’m going to show you some more resources,” she said. She pulls up the website for the Student Health and Counseling Center. “You can check this out sometime. There are support groups on campus for anything from eating disorders to anxiety. There are also a bunch of therapists that you can see.”

“Would you like to see a therapist here?” She asked me.

The question processed more as, Do I want to unravel the depths of my heart with a random therapist in Cowtown? My first instinct was no. Heck no.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I do have a therapist back at home. She’s amazing.”

“Okay. Do you think you can keep seeing her? Where are you from?”

“Sacramento. Gold River.”

“Oh, I know where that is. I used to live there. So that’s not a sustainable drive back and forth,” she said.

“But I only see her now like every few months. I saw her regularly the summer after my junior year, but then after that I felt really equipped to use those tools on my own.”

I describe therapy as trying to figure out where my anxiety, thoughts, and emotions fit into the puzzle of living a healthy life. In the beginning, we set a foundation. We set goals. At the end of the summer, all those goals had been met. And I wanted to see how far those new discoveries would take me, so I ceased therapy, and allowed myself to practice seeing the world through that new lense. But when I got stuck somewhere, I would check in with my therapist again, and she would give me the extra piece of the puzzle that I needed to continue to fall deeper and deeper into healing. The signs I needed to check in included having a breakdown, being emotionally full, and having super negative self-talk.

“Hmm. Well, maybe then you were in a place where you only needed to go in for tune-ups here and there. But now you are in a new place, a new environment, struggling with things that maybe are familiar,” she eyed me with a smile, “but they are still new struggles. Maybe it might help to have another therapist as well.”

“I don’t know. I do feel really well surrounded here. I’m part of a fellowship, I have a small group, I have a mentor who meets with me pretty regularly…”

“It sounds like you do. But you might also benefit from having a therapeutic relationship on top of all that, so your needs are met in every area.”

Crap. She was right.

“I am super passionate about therapy, but I don’t know….”

“It sounds like you know what you want,” she said, gently.

“You might as well try it,” she went on.

“Because if you try something and it doesn’t work out you can always drop it but if you don’t try it at all you might be missing out on something amazing…” I finished her sentence.

“Exactly,” she said, nodding.

I took a deep breath, and gave in. I would see a random new therapist in cowtown.

“How does it work again?” I asked.

~

Intervention number one was hooking me up with a therapist on campus. Intervention number 2 was that I would have to take a dance class or something next quarter.

“It sounds like there is very little joy in your schedule right now. We need to bring that back,” she said. She opened up my 4 year plan and added a P.E class to every quarter. I told her that I wanted to minor in psych and she made room for that, and assured me there was time and room for everything I wanted to do.

“College is so much more than taking classes to finish. You have time to find who you are. There’s no point in trying to do all that you want to do if you’re not happy,” she said.

“I think I’m going to cry,” I said, tears of relief welling up in my eyes. I was going back to therapy. She saw what I was going through and intervened. She pulled the, “but wait, there’s more” card. It was as though she had gone through the same thing before or something. She understood what I needed so well.

“Cry. It’s okay! There’s a tissue box right there,” she said, gently. We both laughed as I took a tissue and wiped the tears from my eyes.

“I wasn’t planning on talking about half of this today,” I said.

“I think it was on the tip of your tongue,” she said, smiling. We both took a deep breath.

When I stopped crying, she said, “Right now you feel like everyone is smarter than you. You’d be surprised how many people feel the same way you do, they are just very good at faking it. I’m very happy you reached out early. You are reaching out in all the right places.”

“First we have to get that anxiety under control though. When we do, I have no doubt that the grades will just come.” She smiled again. I nodded, at a loss for words.

We both stood up. “Thank you so much,” I told her.

“You are so welcome. Come in and let me know how things go. I better see at least one fun class in your schedule!” She said, with a wink.

~

I cried for an hour after that appointment. Manisha let the light in. I was having a vulnerability hangover, and I had just experienced a miracle. I called my therapist and texted Michela after that happened because I was crying so many tears of relief.

God wasn’t some magic pixie that took away all my problems in one weekend. Instead, he was the Shepard that was constantly guiding me through life, making more and more room for healing through each step of the journey. And there is always more healing to walk in and freedom to experience. God is never done restoring us.

So I came home from college this week. I came home to family, home-cooked meals, and amazing friends. I came home to intense Nintendo Switch games, thrifting, my piano and my car.

I came home to my therapist, who showed every toxic thought and feeling I had so much compassion. She gave me tools to take into my next season and wrapped them with so much grace. I came home to healing and restoration. I came home to rest and peace.

I came home to love. God’s love is so deep. We can build our lives upon his love. That love is something no wildfire, no tragedy, no amount of untruth, and no emotion can shake. His love knows the depths of our hearts and chooses us anyways. His love is joy in the mourning and peace in the uncertainty. It’s an everyday kind of love.

And it is always waiting for us, and it is always more than enough. This love is something I am so incredibly grateful for. It’s everything I could ever need or want. Today, maybe it’s calling you home.

Happy Thanksgiving guys!! 💗

The Weekend I Got Set Free

Exactly 2 hours after my math midterm, I was in Pastor Will’s car with 5 other people on the way to Lake Tahoe for my first fall retreat. I had no expectations for this retreat. I just wanted a weekend where I didn’t have to study. I just wanted a weekend to rest.

The drive from Davis to Lake Tahoe passes through my hometown in Sacramento. It was the first time I was home since I moved in, even though we were just driving through. Exhibit A was the exit to my high school. Exhibit B was Capital Christian, the church my parents and mentor go to. Exhibit C was the church I grew up in. Exhibit D was my neighborhood and the creek behind it that ends on the highway. Exhibit E was the Taco Bell I worked at over the summer, and Exhibit F was the exit to go to Jesus Culture.

“I still can’t believe we met there,” Will told me, after we passed Jesus Culture.

“I can’t either. Will, your leaders are amazing. I’ve never felt this well surrounded in my life,” I told him.

“I’m so glad to hear that,” he said. We sang worship songs the whole ride down, sharing stories and simply getting to know each other better. But it was super ironic that all the worship songs we sang were about finding our self-worth in Jesus.

We arrived at the camp around 9p.m. Worship had just ended and we found seats in the room. Jeremy, the speaker, began sharing about comparison, self-worth, identity, and freedom. Okay, this is even more ironic.

After he spoke, he opened up the room for people to get prayer. Leaders came up in the front to pray with people. I sat there, anxious and convicted, wanting to go up but not sure if I was supposed to.

“You look like you want to go up,” Johnathon, a guy from my small group tells me. He was sitting next to me the whole car ride and was sitting with me then.

“Yeah. I don’t know.”

“Well so like I was having super bad allergies and I just prayed right now and they went away. So like, you don’t have to go up there to receive from God. But at the same time, if you feel like you need to go up there, you should. I don’t know. You can’t lose either way,” he said.

“Hmm,” I said. My heart was so heavy. When I had called Michela during my breakdown on Wednesday, she had me declare out loud so much truth over myself that I didn’t actually believe. I felt like I was still walking in bondage and wasn’t completely set free.

“I’m going,” I said, giving in. I walked up to the front. Paige, one of the Bethel Students, smiled and greeted me with a hug. I told her about my week of striving, my breakdown, and all the lies I had been believing about myself. She took my hands in hers and prayed for me.

“Do you have panic attacks a lot?” She asked me.

“Kind of. I’ve definitely learned to manage them, but they still happen.”

“Hmm. What does it look like to surrender to you?” She asked me.

“You shouldn’t have to try. You fall in love with Jesus and it just happens,” I said.

“Yeah. Getting set free is like that too. Don’t think you need to do a billion things in order to get set free. He’s already set you free. You just have to receive it.”

She starts praying again. “God, I pray for you to reveal the moment when anxiety entered Lea’s life…”

“Mmm.” She looked up. “Can you think of something?”

“I know exactly when anxiety entered my life. I was in middle school. I was failing test after test after test. And then in high school, I found so much healing. I’ve had breakthrough in this area of my life before, but the thoughts came back.”

“Hmm. Well, Lea, it sounds like you aren’t that far. You already know when anxiety entered your life. You’ve already been letting people in your struggle. You’re on the right track.”

“I guess I’ve lived with it my whole life so I don’t believe I deserve to live without that weight on my shoulders,” I said, tears stinging my eyes.

She shook her head and smiled. “That’s a lie.”

She hugged me again. “Your healing is right here. You just have to reach out and grab it.”

How do you reach out and grab healing? I thought. It’s not an object. I can’t hold it. Yeah, I really don’t get this at all.

~

Saturday morning I found myself in a room next to all my friends with a bunch of Bethel students in the front of the room giving words to people. It was like a literal recreation of my first day at Jesus Culture.

“I’m so scared right now,” I told my friend, Kallista, who was sitting next to me. She squeezed my hand and said everything would be fine. There was an anticipation in my heart, as I knew how broken I had been the last few days. The light was about to be let in. And I was terrified.

I held my breath as people I loved all around the room received extremely powerful words. We stretched out our hands and prayed over everyone.

The students took turns giving out words. Then, a guy named Stephen came up.

“Is there a Preston in the room?” he asked. A huge “wooahhh,” erupted all around the room. Everybody knew Preston. He was one of the coolest leaders ever. He stood up and received an extremely powerful word about how his whole family would come to Christ because of Him. Everyone surrounded him and prayed that word over him. When we finished praying, we all clapped and hollered for Him.

“Okay, I have one more,” He said. He took a deep breath.

“Is there a Lea in the room?”

A chorus of “whats,” “dangs,” and even more “woahs,” erupted once again. Oh crap. He got my name. I stood up, not surprised.

“Do you sing by any chance?” He asked. Another huge chorus erupts. My friends all yelled, “Yes she does!”

“Sort-of. One time these people had me sing and I thought it was a disaster but they thought it was great,” I said. The room started laughing.

“So yes,” he said. All my friends nodded.

“Okay so this is kind of a heavy word. Who are your closest friends?”

I looked around me. “They’re all right here,” I said, eyeing the people in my small group sitting with me.

“Okay, can I just have you guys surround her and lay your hands on her while she receives this?”

They all surrounded me. I started freaking out even more.

“I think God wants you to know that when you sing, your voice can break off thoughts of suicide and depression,” He stated.

“But more than that,” he continued, “You have the authority in your voice to break off all the lies you believe about yourself.”

After last week’s breakdown, that had been such a huge theme in my life. I was completely shook. Tears began to fall down my cheeks and my friends held me even tighter.

“Can we pray that over you?” He asked. I nodded. They all started praying. Michela came over to where I was and took my free hand. I held it tightly. I looked straight into her eyes with tears all over my face. She was with me in yet another vulnerable moment. There were arms all around me, and my tears became more and more uncontrollable.

“Wait there is so much more in this moment!” Another Bethel student says. “Right now, if there is anyone who has been struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, I’m going to ask you to be brave and stand up right now.”

More people stood. And more people surrounded the other people that stood. Everyone was crying and praying so passionately. We were all begging heaven to come down.

Music started to play. People kept praying fiercely. There are whispers all around the room. Kallista, on my left, has declarations flying out of her mouth. “Thank you God! I had been praying for Lea to get healed today. No more starving God. No more striving. She is now free!”

From behind me, I hear, “She lights up every room she walks in. She has a purpose that is so unique to her. Thank you for who Lea is.”

“Mmmm. Yes God!”

Madeline came up in front of me and added her hand to the pile.

“God, I know this gift is a heavy one to carry, but your burden is light God. I pray for no more lies, God. She is healed. We pray for your peace to come. She is set free. Thank you that you have set her free.”

“I pray for a fresh baptism of the holy spirit over her God! Come and fill her up. We want more of you God,” Lindsey proclaimed.

“Lea, I think that if you are going to get tongues, today is the day.”

And we kept praying, and praying, and praying. I opened my hands to receive, crying, not sure how to receive anything, not sure if I really believed I was set free.

“I don’t know how to receive it!” I told Lindsey through my tears.

“You might not get it right now, but you are definitely going to get it later,” she said.

2 of my  friends, Kellie and Tristan had come up that morning. I turned around and Kellie embraced me, tight.

“You missed it,” I said, crying like crazy.

“Girl, we missed nothing,” she said, smiling.

Afterwards they started calling out physical conditions, saying that there was an anointing in the room for healing.

“I feel like there is anointing in the room for people with chronic headaches. If that’s you, can you raise your hand?”

My friend Emily raised her hand. We started praying over her. The second we lifted our hands off her head, she opened her eyes extremely shocked.

“The pain is gone,” she said. She started crying. “I’ve been having headaches on and off forever.”

The girl in front of me, Svetlana, had a hand injury. We declared healing over her, and it was completely gone.

My friend Xylia had numbness in her hands and couldn’t pick up anything with her fingers. We prayed for her and she was able to pick up a chair afterwards.

And we kept crying, and praying, and crying even more. Healing exploded around the room. People raised their hands as they received it.

“Can we celebrate what God is doing in this room right now?” One of the students proclaimed. We all started cheering. The worship band began to play again.

I couldn’t stop crying. He knew my name. And he knew that I sang. And he knew that I was struggling to break these lies off of myself.

I had been fighting God all week, and when you play that game, God fights for you back. He chases you down. And He called me out today, because he knew that was what it would take for me to come back to Him. I was full of awe and wonder. I had been expecting to get called out, but not in this way.

How did he know my name?

~

We decompressed for an hour or so from crying so much and then went to a prophecy and evangelism workshop. The Bethel students answered questions about words of knowledge and how to give them, and then led us into an exercise.

“I want you guys to just listen and hear what God is trying to say right now. When you come up with something, I want you to write it down. Afterwards, we’re going to have you walk around and see who you’re supposed to give that word to.”

I soaked into my thoughts. The thing that kept coming up was, Your thoughts define me, not my own. We listened for about 10 minutes, pressing into the voice of God.

“Alright does everyone have something?”

We all nodded.

“Okay stand up,” he said. We rose to our feet.

“Everybody ready?”

We all nodded.

“Psych. The word is actually for you.”

Clamor erupts. Everything made sense now.

The word was totally for me. I couldn’t believe it.

~

After the workshop, we went to the lake. The whole car ride was spent belting out worship music and taking in how beautiful Lake Tahoe was. We hiked down the hill as fast as we could because there was a bathroom at the bottom and my beautiful friend Ysabel really had to pee.

My small group 🙂

When we got back to the camp, we had dinner and our last session for the night. The worship team began to play “Deep Cries Out.” They invited us to come from our seats to the front.

“You wanna go?” I asked my friend, Dorothy.

“Let’s do it,” she said. I took her hand and we made our way to the front.

We all started jumping up and down, clapping, dancing, and singing from the top of our lungs. Deep cries out, Deep cries out to you. We cry out, we cry out to you… The hardwood floor was shaking so much I was scared we would all fall through. We danced to the left when the song said go to the left and danced to the right when the song said go to the right. We cheered like crazy when the song said to shout in the river, and jumped even higher when the song said to jump in the river.

We’re falling into deeper waters calling out to you

We’re falling into deeper waters going after you…

Deep Cries Out was the classic youth group song that everyone knew. We stirred up deep-deep wells and waters in our imaginary cauldrons because God’s fountain never runs dry. And we were all dancing, singing, with our hands lifted, laughing, as there was so much joy in the room. We were sweating and completely out of breath by the time the song ended, panting as we cheered even more. Those were the best moments— when all you can possibly think about is how much joy there is in the journey of falling deeper and deeper in love with Jesus.

After that, they played “Oceans” and “You Make Me Brave.” Both of those songs highlight allowing God to lead you into the unknown and trusting Him through the process. I thought about the word Ysabel gave me 2 weeks ago. God just wants you to know that you don’t have to keep fighting the waters by yourself. He wants you to let Him in the boat with you.

I put my arm around Ysabel. And we both stood there, one arm around the other, with the other hand lifted towards the ceiling. The water isn’t scary, but it’s His fresh water pouring a new spirit and new life into you.

God, I prayed. You’ve called me out into the waves. These are the waves. They are all around me every day. I am terrified of them.

And I kept declaring these words over and over myself: But you make me brave. You make me brave. And you’re the only one who can make me brave.

~

Jeremy, our speaker, kept going on and on about our self worth through Him. He gave us time to receive from the Lord directly after worship, inviting us to take off whatever we had been needing to take off and detach ourselves from whatever lies we had been believing that didn’t belong anymore. He claimed that God wanted to set us free tonight, if we would just let Him in.

When I got that word in the morning, I was having such a hard time receiving it. Everyone had declared so much truth over me the whole day, but I hadn’t had a chance to declare it for myself. There was a heaviness on my heart as I began to pray.

Something compelled me to go up to the altar. They were singing, “What a Beautiful Name.” I allowed myself to fall on my knees and I lifted my hands and sang.

What a powerful name it is

What a powerful name it is

The name of Jesus Christ my king…

Do I really believe it? I asked myself. I pressed in further. Do I believe that His name can set me free from all the lies I’ve been believing about myself? Do I believe He can set me free from anxiety and depression? Do I believe that’s what He wants for me?

I remembered that the power our thoughts have over us is only the power that we give them.

“I think a lot of us have been doing the devil’s job for him for so long. We have been being so hard on ourselves. He doesn’t even have to try to tear us apart, because we’ve been the ones feeding ourselves all these lies,” Jeremy had said. “I think it’s time we make the devil have to work a little harder. I think it’s time we stop doing his job for us.”

I nodded in my head, still on my knees, and began to pray.

“God, I detach myself from all the lies I’ve been believing about myself. They have no power over me anymore. Who the son sets free is free indeed. And you have set me free. I just want to walk in that freedom from here on out,” I heard myself say. I looked up. It was finished. The battle had already been won.

I stood to my feet and sang:

I hear those chains falling

I hear those chains falling

I hear those chains falling

You break every chain, break every chain, break every chain…

“I believe there is so much more for each one of you who is seeking more of Him tonight,” he said as the music slowed down.

“If you are wanting a fresh touch from Jesus, I’m going to have you come up here.” He pointed to his right.

“But if you aren’t sure exactly what you need tonight, but you just want prayer, I’m going to have you come over here.” He pointed to his left.

“I just want you guys to have some time to really talk to Jesus tonight,” he said.

He let us go wherever we needed to. People came up to the altar and knelt. Other people stayed in their seats and prayed. People all around we’re giving and getting words for one another. I went to the right side of the stage and began to pray.

A thought popped into my head. Tongues. I had been praying for it forever. To me, the scripture was evident that God wanted to give gifts to His children. I felt like there was finally room in my heart to receive it after detaching myself from all those lies. I open my hands to receive, and began praying for it. A Bethel student prayed for a fresh baptism of the Holy Spirit to fall down on me. Nothing happened. I kept praying, and praying. Maybe I’m trying too hard. Getting tongues is supposed to be super childlike.

The guy behind me started speaking in tongues. Dude, that’s not cool. I turned around and poked him. He was having this amazing spiritual moment with God and didn’t budge. I poked him again. It’s only now that I’m writing this that I hope I didn’t screw up his spiritual moment.

“Hey. That tongues thing. I want that,” I said.

“Do you really? Okay,” he said. He placed a hand on my shoulder and began praying for the spirit to come down. Nothing happened.

He encouraged me and then kept going.

“We pray for fire, God! Come down and fill her up. My sister in Christ is asking for more of you.” The girl in front of me started speaking in tongues. Okay, seriously this is not cool. The girl can’t stop laughing because she’s so full of joy. She turned around and they both started praying for me in tongues.

Vowels begin to form in my head. I tried to speak them. I was scared it wasn’t it. I spit them out anyways. They both started laughing and they kept praying. I do it again, and then again. Then it just started pouring out of me.

“Holy crap!” I exclaimed. I took a step back. They both looked up, laughing.

“Wow, I’ve never witnessed someone get tongues before. This is actually so cool,” the guy said.

“That’s it. I got it!” I exclaimed. The slur of vowels was on the tip of my tongue. It was the weirdest thing ever.

I ran to the back of the room and found Lindsey.

“Lindsey! I got it!” She lights up.

“Lea I knew you were going to get it today! I’m so proud of you and so darn happy for you! I had been praying for you to get it since you told me you wanted it.” She said, embracing me.

I told Pastor Will I got it because when he drove me up here I had told him I wanted it. I texted my mentors back at home that I got it. I even freaked out my parents and told them I got it. I had been praying for it since the summer. I think it was already there. Tongues are just a physical manifestation of the Holy Spirit. I just had to receive it.

There’s no check list to getting set free. It’s not about the things we need to do in order for it to happen. No. God does all the heavy lifting. All we have to do is just be.

~

I call this weekend the weekend I got set free. But I already was set free. I just fell deeper and deeper into that freedom, and deeper and deeper into that healing. And I still am.

The following day we shared testimonies. I cried again hearing what so many people had gone through. After I shared, Will asked me to sing. I sang “Defender” and then ran off the stage (watch the video haha). After that, I got to pray for a leader, Chelsea, to receive tongues because she had been wanting it for a while. She got to be the first person to hear what my tongue sounded like, and that was pretty cool.

In the parking lot I ran into Kellie. We were loading our stuff to head back to UC Davis. I embraced her.

“I’m so proud of you,” I told her. She had shared some deep stuff that morning.

“Thank you. Lea! I’m so happy for you. I feel like before you were in a really weak spot, coming to me and Tristan to rant and having a really hard time. And now you are singing to the congregation, praying in tongues over people, and I can just tell you are so much lighter.”

“Thank you,” I said, taking her hands in mine.

“Just don’t forget. If those thoughts come back or you have a slip up, run straight back to us. Everything that happened this weekend was real. If you do have a slip up, it’s just because you’re human. That is perfectly okay.”

“I really walked into college thinking I had these things figured out and then they hit me so hard,” I told her, laughing.

“Haha, don’t we all though?”

My weekend demonstrated exactly what reaching out and grabbing healing looks like. It just means trusting God will make it happen. Trusting that God sees you. Trusting that He knows what your soul so deeply needs. I didn’t do anything this weekend to make any of these breakthroughs happen. They just did. And these are just the breakthroughs that happened to me. If I included all of my friends’ breakthroughs in here I would have to write a book.

But also breakthrough doesn’t just happen in one weekend and then end there. Breakthrough is a piece of the journey. There is always still more healing to discover and more freedom to walk in. I just want to encourage you guys and say that you don’t have to be in a fancy room with lights to receive from God. You just have to come to Him, where you are. Let Him do the heavy lifting today. And please remember that you are just so, so loved.

Thank you so much for reading this. I love you guys so soo much. 💗 Please leave any questions you have for me down below! 🙂

Michela, my small group leader 💗

Ysabel, Moa, and Emily

another pic of my small group 💗

Lindsey 💗signiature

Save Me

I decided to take all my toxic thoughts and use them as fuel to study a thousand times harder. I succeeded. I spent my entire Sunday studying Sociology and doing extra practice problems for math. On Monday, I woke up at 7:40, got ready, ate breakfast, and then went to lecture at 9. From 10-12a.m, I studied Biology and Sociology. I went to office hours for Sociology after that where I got my questions answered from 12-1:20ish, and then I ate lunch with my roommate. After that, I studied Sociology for another hour, and from 3-4 went to math lecture. After math lecture, I went to office hours for math from 4-6, Sociology Discussion from 6-7, and then got dinner and went to small group at 8. It didn’t end there. After small group where we continued to dive in what it means to be a child of God, I decided to ignore everything I said in small group about not striving and spent around 40 minutes finishing the rest of my math homework.

The goal was to do at least 5 hours of work outside of class each day, because that’s the expectation here. For every hour in lecture you’re supposed to spend 2 hours studying after all. And there is nothing wrong with working hard since God does call us to excellence. But God is the one who will ultimately give us the strength to do what we need to do. He calls us not to strive. We’re supposed to trust that He will give us the strength to get through all the challenges and unknowns we face everyday. And I have been struggling to differentiate between excellence and striving.

Tuesday morning I woke up, studied math for about an hour and a half, and then biked to the DCF house to meet with Michela, one of my small group leaders. Michela is an angel. She has this super gentle presence and bubbly personality. She makes an effort to meet with the girls in her small group because she’s so passionate about reaching out and coming alongside of us.

She’s also a natural therapist. She listens and asks questions exactly like one. She radiates joy and her words are so full of life that you just can’t help but always want to be with her. She reminds me of my therapist, my teacher, and a few of my mentors from high school. She’s the kind of mentor I hope I get to be.

I found myself sitting outside on the Glory House’s beautiful patio with her. To add to the vibe, the wind was gently blowing, the weather was beautiful, and Michela was eating the most aesthetically pleasing oatmeal in a jar I’ve ever seen.

“How are you doing?” She asked me.

“I’m really struggling,” I said.

I’ve been struggling because I’ve been fueling an already unhealthy desire to meet unrealistic expectations by my anger towards the thoughts that are keeping me in bondage. Every time the thought comes up that I am not smart enough to be here, I use the rage as motivation to study. And when the thought comes up that no matter how much I study I am still going to fail, I study even harder and harder. Because I’ve convinced myself that I’m either failing my classes because I’m stupid or I’m failing my classes because I’m not studying enough. And so now I’m going to study every second I possibly can so that when I do fail, it has to be because I’m just not smart enough. It’s like I’m trying to prove to the world that I’m not smart, because if I wasn’t smart enough, things would be easier. Sometimes we think it’s easier to live in misery than to simply let the light in.

Failures are just things we try that didn’t work. There are a lot of things I’ve tried that haven’t worked, so I pull myself up on my feet and make myself try again. I’ve been surprising myself. I didn’t know I was actually capable of studying that much in a day. I thought I was too stupid to do that. I’ve been changing the way I study, especially for math. And office hours are pretty amazing. My Sociology professor was so warm and helpful. My math T.A sat next to me for literally 45 minutes trying to make sure I understood the process behind the math I was doing, even though I had the right answers. I’ve been trying to work harder, change things up, and figure it out. But still, to me I’m not smart.

“What does it mean to be smart?” She asked me.

“I don’t know. But the definition in my head is someone who understands things easily. Someone who understands the way tests work. Someone who doesn’t struggle in school because it just comes easily to them. Someone who can study 4-5 hours a day with no problems,” I said.

“I also think nobody is like that,” I said, laughing.

“Yeah, nobody is like that. I think that is a really high expectation that you are putting on yourself.”

“I’ve somehow convinced myself that everyone here is like that.”

“So you think you need to be like that.”

“Yeah. But I can’t be like that, because it’s just not me.”

“What does striving look like to you?” she asked me.

I thought for a moment. “I don’t know. I really don’t have an answer for that. I just know that I am striving like crazy right now.” She nodded.

This is my thought process behind striving: The good students study every second and hour of their life, and I can learn to become a good student too if I build my mental stamina to where I can do the same. Striving is throwing God in the shotgun of my car and taking the driver’s seat. Striving is trying to do everything out of my own strength. Striving is motivated by fear, not love. Striving is numbing vulnerability. Striving is extremely unhealthy and doesn’t work.

And I know that, but I’ve been doing it anyways. And I’ve been killing the condition of my soul in the process. Because every time that thought comes up that I’m not smart enough, I go harder, and harder, and harder. Striving is never enough. I’m fully aware that trying to bury my insecurity in my work ethic will leave me miserable. I’m fully aware that it’s no way to live. But I feel like I have no choice. Part of me believes I don’t deserve to walk in peace. I feel like everyone is expecting me to succeed, and I am completely and wholeheartedly carrying that burden. Even if I do study like crazy, I have agreed with the lie that I’m still going to fail. So I run around like crazy even more as though I’m trying to prove a point.

I tried to be a hero for a day

but all my superpowers failed to save 

So I turned in my ego and my cape

I was made to fly but not this way…

So I kept trying to be the hero. And I kept breaking, and breaking, and breaking. On Wednesday, I went from lecture, to lab, to office hours, to a late lunch, to lecture again, and then back to studying math. There was a math midterm review session from 8p.m-10p.m. My body was crying for rest so I gave up and took a nap for an hour around 6p.m, woke up at 7p.m, with my head throbbing, so overwhelmed, with all the lies I believed about myself completely controlling me.

Instead of succeeding in dragging myself to the review session and causing myself even more pain, I had a panic attack.

I knew it was going to happen at some point. Right after my roommate left to get dinner, the tears exploded. I just can’t do this anymore. I had never even done this one before. I tried to be the hero, and I lasted barely 4 days.

I was crying, gasping for air, and freaking out. God, I’m at this point again where all I can rely on is you. What do I do? Michela pops into my head. Crap, we just had this conversation yesterday. I was so ashamed, not sure how to reach out. I texted Ezequiel, my math tutor.

“Yo.”

“Suh.”

“having a panic attack right and low key crying like crazy. I think I should call Michela,” I texted him.

“I’m actually with her. Could I tell her to call you?” He texted me.

“Yesss.”

“Great =).”

A few seconds later, Michela called me.

“Lea! What’s going on?”

“I’m dying. ”

“What is happening?”

“So I woke up, went to lecture, then went straight from lecture to lab, straight from lab to office hours, straight from office hours to lunch and then back to class…”

“Oh my gosh.”

“And then right after class we tried to bust out the math homework but then I quit, took a nap, and woke up and with a panic attack. There’s a math midterm review session from 8-10p.m. I don’t have anything left. It’s like I’m at the point where I don’t have a choice but to rely on God,” I said through my tears.

“Yeah, Lea, I don’t think this is sustainable. You don’t have to keep coming back to this place. This is such a heavy burden to be carrying.”

I fell back on to my bed.

“Can I pray for you right now?” She asked.

“Yes,” I said, weakly.

Michela prayed for me over the phone, declaring so many truths over me that I felt I was too broken to believe. Afterwards, I didn’t say anything but a faint, “Thank you.”

“What is going through your head right now?” she asked, gently.

“I don’t know. That no matter what I do, I’m never going to be good enough. That I’m so weak, and so broken. I’m giving these thoughts so much  power over me right now.”

“Lea this is what I want you to do. I want you to pray aloud and detach yourself from any of the lies you’ve made attachments with. I want you to say out loud that these things don’t have any power over you.”

“Michela, I don’t even think I know how to pray,” I said, exasperated.

“I believe that the Holy Spirit will reveal to you what you need to say as you start.”

“I feel like I can’t do that.”

“The devil doesn’t want you to declare truth over yourself and is trying to tell you that you can’t. This is real spiritual warfare.”

“Okay.” I had no idea where to start. “I’m going to make a list of lies I’ve been believing about myself. And then I’m going to pray over that list.”

“Sounds good. You could even put the phone down and do it, but I think there is power in saying it out loud.”

“I agree. Okay,” I tried to begin. I looked at my list. I forgot how to pray. More lies seep in. You don’t have the authority to do this. You can’t even hear from God. Even your faith is too broken.

“You know what’s funny? Moa texted me this morning. She told me that when we have automatic negative thoughts, the first thing to do is to write down the thought in detail. The second thing is to ask yourself if it’s true, and if you’re 100% sure.”

“Mmmm,” she said.

“And then you ask yourself how that makes you feel, and how you would feel if you didn’t have that thought. She texted me 2nd Corinthians 10:5, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

“Yess. God is giving you the tools to fight these battles.”

“I feel like because I’ve struggled with this for so long that I will never get over it.”

“That is so not true. God is always making room for more healing. I think you need to start detaching yourself from these lies right now. You have that authority,” she said, gracefully.

“Okay,” I took a deep breath. My whole body was shaking. There were tears all over my face. The thought of declaring all these lies to have no power over me out loud felt so uncomfortable. I was good at praying for other people. I was terrible at praying for myself.

“God…” I started. I have no idea how to do this. “I don’t know why I feel this way. I know I am not stupid. I know I am not broken…”

I struggled to find the words. I closed my eyes, fighting to hear what God was telling me. I can’t hear anything. Every thought I had was tainted with doubt.

“God, I need you to be strong when I am weak. I can study like crazy for all these tests, but if you don’t show up, I am nothing. I could be nothing, and if you showed up I would be everything. God, I need you to show up. I declare that these lies wouldn’t have a hold of me any longer. I pray that I would know I’m enough. That you would help me to know that you are proud of me. I pray for more of you and less of me…”

“That’s all I got,” I said.

“Mmmm so good. I really want to hear you say that you detach yourself from all of these lies,” Michela declares.

“God, I detach myself from any attachments I have made to these lies. They no longer get to control me.”

“Yess! So good!!” She exclaims.

“I need to stop saying that I’m dying all the time! The words we speak reflect what is going on in our hearts. My heart is not dead! I’m not going to die. The battle has already been won!” I declared.

“Mmmm.”

I had never felt more vulnerable in my life. What makes us vulnerable makes us beautiful. And on the comforter of my bed in my dorm room, I felt like my whole heart was just poured out of me. And I felt like now I could finally start healing, because there was finally room in my heart for it.

We both lingered in the moment over the phone. “Sorry I’m at a loss for words,” I said.

“You’re processing things.”

“Yeah.” I paused again.

“So some things I am noticing. My headache is gone.”

“Haha,” Michela said.

“I don’t feel dead anymore. Maybe I actually can go the review session.”

“Ask God if you should go,” she said. “Really ask Him what he thinks.”

“Okay,” I said.

“I’m going to check in with you later tonight and tomorrow. Yes, it’s not healthy to have to keep coming to this point, but what’s so awesome is that now we get to come alongside of you and walk this journey with you.”

“I feel like I struggle to run to Jesus first in these situations too,” I said.

“Haha yeah. I think we do need to ultimately run to Jesus first, but God gives us community as well to highlight how much he loves us. Like me, all I’m doing here is pointing you back to Jesus. I’m just a person. But I’m so happy I get to point you back to Jesus.”

Wow.

“And I’m always here to point you back to Jesus. And support ya.”

“Thank you so much,” I said, shook, grateful, and at a loss for words.

“I love you, Lea.”

“Love you too.”

We hung up the phone, and then I face planted into my bed.

“Why haven’t you left yet?” I asked my roommate. She had come back in from dinner during the conversation and got to hear most of it. We were planning on going to the review session together, but I originally told her I wasn’t going to go.

Part of me was like crap, she just saw Zombie Lea at its finest. She had just witnessed one of the most vulnerable moments of my life.

But then another part of me was thinking that maybe witnessing me reach out in the midst of my struggle would give her the courage to reach out in her hardest times. If that seed was planted in her heart that day, then this was all worth it.

“I was waiting for you!” She said.

“Why?”

“I wasn’t going to leave you here!” She said.

“Okay give me a second,” I said. I went to the bathroom and splashed some water on my face.

God, do you want me to succeed?

Because if you do, give me the strength to go to this review thing, because I can’t and am done trying to do this on my own.

I walked back into the dorm room with a new energy. I was still tired, my eyes were heavy from crying, and the energy I received didn’t make me extremely hyper but it was still supernatural and sufficient. It was like I had received an extra life card in a video game or something. I grabbed my backpack and my bike key.

“Okay. Let’s go.”

~

“We’re only 20 minutes late,” I said.

“Fashionably late,” my roommate said. We entered the giant lecture hall of 200 people, found our friends and climbed over the seats in the back row.

My math TA is amazing. He donates his time to do these review sessions for us because he cares. Almost everything he went over in that review session were questions I had asked him during office hours. You can really tell how much he cares by the way he teaches.

He was going over one of the limits. One of the rules, the limit as x approaches 0 of sin(x)/x = 1 didn’t work because the limit was going to infinity.

“So what do you do when the theta doesn’t go to zero?” He asked.

“Sandy Sandwich!” I called out. Sandwich theorem. Everyone in the lecture hall starts hysterically laughing.

Johnathon, another guy from my small group turned to me from the end of the row and said, “Did you just say Sandy Sandwich?” He was laughing uncontrollably.

“Yeah. Okay, I’m tired,” I said.

“Yes, sandwich theorem,” My TA said, trying not to laugh. He went over how to use that theorem with everyone. When someone in our row didn’t get something, someone would explain it to them. Most of the time, we had the same questions. We were all just as scared. We had all done badly on the last midterm and were hoping this one would be better. We were in it together, laughing together, holding on to each other as we made our way through the unknown. I laughed so much in those 2 hours as my T.A explained things in a way that was super funny, and the people around me had amazing commentary. If only I talked to myself the way we talked to each other.

After the review session, we went to Late Night in the dining hall together and ate crepes and pizza at 10:30p.m. That was how we celebrated our Halloween. I realized in that moment that we were all so human, and our imperfect nature allowed for moments like these.

That day I learned that letting people in was so vital to healing. I realized I should have just called Michela right away when God put her in my head. Crazy how even though my shame nearly kept me from not reaching out at all, Ezequiel was sitting right next to Michela. I had really needed her more than anything. She was a miracle.

~

The next day I gave myself time to breathe. Instead of waking up early and immediately hitting the study grind, I woke up late, ate a late breakfast, and passively looked over the Sociology study guide I had made for my midterm.

Michela texted me. She said to read Psalm 40. I read it over and over again, really acknowledging how much I needed Jesus. During my quiet time, I remembered something I had quoted in another blog post from my senior year of high school.

I know it is overwhelming not to know how all of this brokenness will be mended, but may you be all the more overwhelmed by just how wonderful it is that God is completely in control of the healing and restoration you soul so deeply needs. Whatever you have gone through, you are not a victim anymore. The kingdom is now your new home. 

And I found myself singing Steffany Gretzinger’s song with so much joy and conviction.

God, I’ve been drowning under my skin

Nobody but you can save me.

You’re my hero

You’re the only one who is strong enough

You’re my hero

You always pick me up, before I self destruct…

My Sociology midterm was fine. My second math midterm was so much better. But if I had went more than 4 days trying to be something so unnecessary and so not me, I would’ve died.

But thank God for breakdowns. Because that was how He was able to save me. He saves me from all the lies I attach to. He saves me from my striving. He will always be mending me and restoring me. And here we are in a new season, finally having made room for healing, slowly beginning to discover what it truly looks like to be set free.

~

Comparison, Bondage, and Freedom

“Olivia! It’s 7:50!” I cried. We usually got up at 7:30. My roommate slowly got out of her bed.

“And our math midterms are in!” She shook her head and we both started to get ready for the day. My outfit for lecture was a hoodie with sweatpants and socks with Birkenstocks. Classic college look. Then, we ran to the dining hall before all the lines got super long.

“Are you going to check?” She asked me.

“Why not,” I said, laughing. I almost clicked on the button, and then I pulled back, and then I tried to click it again, and pulled back again. My goodness just do it. I fast-clicked it and felt a wave of vulnerability rush over me.

“Ouch,” I said, laughing even harder.

“What did you get?”

“68/100,” I cried, laughing.

We went to our 9 a.m biology lecture and then came back to our dorms. Olivia checked hers. She beat me by a solid 3 points, but was still pretty upset. The email read that the cutoff for a B was a 70, and I didn’t quite make it. So we were both really upset. I spent the next few hours trying to study for my Sociology midterm next Thursday, because since I have officially failed 2 of my midterms, it would be nice not to fail the last once. Except the reading for my Sociology class is super weird and I struggled to get anything done in that time frame.

At 2 p.m I had my mandatory first year academic advising appointment. Sort of lost, I almost walked right past the academic success center when the receptionist noticed me slowly walking and looking around and asked me if I had an appointment. It was as though she knew a lot of people completely missed her. I laughed, walked through the doors and asked her if I was in the right place and she replied with great enthusiasm that I was.

“Lea? Come on back!” My advisor took me down to her office.

“I’m Julie,” she said, smiling.

“Nice to meet you,” I said, smiling.

“How are you doing?” Julie asked me.

“Pretty good! How are you?”

“Doing well, thank you so much for asking. How are your classes going?”

“Well, I just found out I got 68% on my midterm, and the cutoff for a B was 70 so I didn’t tank it that badly. But that’s still pretty bad. And I tanked my biology midterm too, but that was because I second guessed myself on a bunch of things. So I don’t know. I guess I’m just trying not to trash my future first quarter,” I said, laughing.

“Wow. It’s completely normal for students to have a harder time on their first midterm. How is Sociology?” She asked, seeing my schedule on her computer.

“I don’t like it,” I said. We both started laughing. “That’s not because Sociology isn’t interesting. It’s just because our class is Sociology through coffee. And I don’t really care about the origins of coffee. Also the reading for that class is weird. But it’s okay! I’m going to office hours tomorrow because they said they are always happy to answer questions for us!”

She started laughing. “Well, I’ll show you some more resources for sure. Have you gone to tutoring for math?”

“Yeah. My teacher’s office hours are always packed and are apparently unhelpful and he makes you feel dumb. So I tried the calc room, but the guy there still had no idea how to do our stuff. So now I am planning on trying my TA’s office hours because he is really nice and probably knows more about what we’re doing,” I said, laughing.

“Oh no!” She said, laughing. She hooked me up with some more places to go that may work better than the ones I had tried. “For MAT 17A, they have a bunch of resources and even old tests here. All the solutions are here too. I don’t know if that might help,” she said, showing me the website.

“Oh I did that one practice test!”

“Really?”

“Yeah! Our test was nothing like it!”

“Oh dear. Well, it sounds like even though you’ve been experiencing hiccups, that you are already seeking out resources. You have such an amazing growth mindset!”

“Well, I cry first. And then I start trying to figure things out.” We bursted into laughter again.

“Alrighty, so do you want me to go over any major requirements with you?”

“Oh yeah! I was looking at them and I drafted a 4 year plan!”

“Did you really? Oh yeah I see it!”

“It’s really bad. I kind of just tried to throw all my major requirements in,” I said, laughing.

She opened up my draft and we both started laughing. “Wow. Yeah, you don’t have to pile on the science courses like that all at once. I can see that.”

“I was confused because after I did that I had nothing to take at the end,” I said.

“Oh yeah for sure!” She said.

She switched a bunch of things around and made a ton of room in my schedule.

“You’re coming in with a lot of AP credit so you probably don’t have to do any of those electives. You have plenty of room to even have a minor.”

“I was thinking about minoring in psych.”

“Yeah! That would go really well with this.”

“Do I really have to re-take math?” I asked.

“Hmm, well,” she looked at my 5 on the AP Calc BC test. It counted for 2 calculus classes already. “For your major, no. But you want to go to medical school right?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah. Then you just have to take 3 years of math. It doesn’t really matter what math though. You’re already taking the calc for bio-sci series, so you just have to take one more math class and stats. You could take 21C if you really wanted to. I would ask the Health Professions Advising people about that one though.”

If I knew that before, I wouldn’t have taken the weird calc series. I would’ve taken one of the normal ones.

Welp, I can’t drop the class now. So I guess we just keep powering through.

“Thank you for making that draft by the way. You were prepared. Most people don’t do that!” She said.

“Of course! Thank you for fixing it, haha.”

“Just want you to know that you can come in anytime you want us to make sure your schedule is on track. We even have peer advisers as well. We have drop in appointments too, we just ask that if you have something you think will take more than 30 minutes that you make an appointment.”

“Sweet. Thank you so much!”

“You’re welcome. Take care Lea. It was nice meeting you!”

I walked out the office and turned left.

“Oh! It’s the other way!” She said, laughing.

~

I had texted Anelise, my girl back at home, Matthew 6:25-34. I had been reading it over and over again since last week’s encounter and her name popped into my head as I was reading it for the millionth time. She texted me back that she had really needed to see it, because she had just taken a really bad math test in her high school Calc class. I guess there are no coincidences in the kingdom of heaven. I had just gotten my really bad test back. 

“Have you been studying a lot?” She asked me.

“Yeahhh,” I replied, “I just feel like no matter what I do my studying just isn’t productive enough.”

“I guess we can only do so much to study though.”

“True but I feel like I completely missed stuff I could’ve studied more for.”

“Oh yeah that happened to me today. I skipped over a bunch of stuff I didn’t look over.”

“Yup. That’s why it’s so hard.”

“It happened to me on bio too and strangely both times I was really ok with it. For some reason I like knowing that I did what I could with the time and circumstances that I had, and if I forgot to do something I still did everything I could with what I knew,” She replied.

I was shook. I had told her that before. We do the best we can with what we have at the time. And that’s why you can’t beat yourself up for something that happened in the past, saying you could’ve done better. With what you knew at that particular time, you did the best you could. You learn from it and you keep going. But for what you could’ve done at the time, your best was enough.

“I’m so glad,” I texted her back, so encouraged by her words and growth.

~

After all my classes for the day, I grabbed dinner with my roommate and we went to small group together. Last week in small group we had to write down what life looks like separated from God on slips of paper. I had written “bondage” on mine.

“What is keeping you in bondage?” Michela asked. Nobody said anything.

“It’s a hard question, I know. But I’m asking because one of you actually wrote that on your paper, and we chose that word because it’s so true how sin keeps us in bondage.”

Silence again.

“I’ll go,” I said giving in. Everyone in the group turns to me. What was I doing? “This is something that I thought I got over such a long time ago, but it just recently came back. I’ve been really struggling with the feeling that I’m not smart enough to be here. I found out today I failed my math midterm, and that one was fine because it was hard for everybody. But last week I walked out of my bio midterm and choked on so many questions. It was supposed to be easy, and choking on something that was supposed to be easy really made me feel stupid. And that just played over in my head for a while. I ran into Kallista in the dining hall and then we tried to study together but I couldn’t get anything done. Every time I’m not studying, I feel like I should be studying more. Every time I am studying, I feel like there is somebody else that is studying way more efficiently than I am and I feel so weak and incompetent when I can’t get anything done. And that thought just keeps coming up in my head. I know it’s not true, but I get angry at people when they tell me that because there’s a part of me that believes I actually am too stupid to be here and that everyone who thinks that I’m smart enough to be here doesn’t actually know me. So I really had to just take a step back and figure out what was going on because even now that cycle is super hard to escape. I know that my self-worth doesn’t come from my grades, and I’ve had God redeem this very area of my life so many times, but I think that’s why it’s called a revelation when you finally feel something you already know. You can always learn something you already know in a new dimension. And I don’t feel that freedom right now.”

Everyone nodded. I took a sip of water.

“Wow,” Michela said.

“Thank you for sharing that,” one of guys emphasized. Everyone nodded.

“No, wow. I totally hear what you are saying. You thought you got over it so long ago but it came back. I was like yup! Been there! But Lea, I truly believe that whenever the things we struggle with come back, it’s because God is calling you into deeper healing about it. So I just love seeing your process and transparency about what you’re going through,” Michela said.

Small group was such an amazing discussion. We dove into so many questions, and people were so vulnerable. Being in a small group where everyone is so present and invested is so amazing compared to small groups in high school where nobody said a word.

We prayed altogether after a good hour of reading scripture and talking about our identity through Christ. Michela said, “Thank you so much guys! Amazing discussion today.”

People slowly got up to stretch. My friend Daniela and I stayed glued to the couch. We both felt like we talked too much during small group. After Daniela got up, another one of my friends, Ysabel, gleefully hopped over and sat on the couch next to me, taking Daniela’s place.

“I got a word for you!” She exclaimed.

“Oh my gosh,” I said. Another one. I guess God does care a lot about me. Sometimes we don’t actually know that.

“Go for it,” I said, smiling.

She began, “The image I got for you was that you were in this rowboat out on the ocean in the middle of the of nowhere, with no other people or land in sight. And the boat was starting to develop these little holes in them; holes of doubt or fear or anxiety or pressures to perform drilling into the foundation of your boat. And you felt all alone and you were panicking trying to figure out how to paddle hard enough or how to get all the water out when it felt hopeless to even try. And from this I just felt God telling me that you needed reassurance that He has you always, even when it’s hard to remember that amidst the shaky waters of life. He’s reminding you that the foundation you have is strong, and something that I personally admire about you is your powerful and unbelievably strong love for God despite what comes. And He loves your faith and the complete and all encompassing faith that you have in Him, but he is reminding you that you don’t need to trust in the foundation that you have made in your faith, but the foundation of Him alone. I feel like your foundation in your faith is really strong, but you use that against yourself sometimes. And I feel Him trying to tell you to stop trying to fight the water and just let Him take over. The water isn’t scary, but it’s His fresh water pouring a new spirit and life into you.”

“Wow,” I said, speechless.

“So I think he wants you to rest in Him and trust that His love won’t let you go even in the toughest of waters, because He is so much stronger than that,” she finished.

I nodded, slowly.

“Dang. Thank you so much. That’s so accurate. I have been holding my foundation in my faith against myself like crazy, wondering why I’m still struggling like this if my faith is so strong.”

“Yeah. And I mean, we all do that,” she said, smiling.

“One of the youth leaders at my high school gave me a word before I left. She told me that she felt like there were some things I was drowning in, and right when I got my head above water they would strike me down again. She told me that those things would not hinder me in the next season of life. I was kind of angry that got declared over me, because they are still drowning me. But I guess this confirms it.”

“I think God just wants you to stop fighting those things and let Him in the boat with you,” she said.

I nodded again. “Wow. I think so too. Can you text that to me so I remember?”

“Yeah of course!”

~

“So I didn’t fail that test! Wow,” Anelise texted me. Those words sounded like something I would text my mentor.

“See? And even if you did, you would still be enough, and it would not screw up your future.”

“That’s good to remember. Thank you.”

“So, one of the girls in my small group got a crazy word for me.”

“Ooh!”

“She saw me in a boat surrounded by water and some of the water was flooding the boat. And she saw me constantly trying to take the water out. She said she felt like the boat represented the foundation of my faith, and that it’s really strong but I use that against myself. And that I’m not supposed to be afraid of the water coming in. The water is like all the fear and bondage I struggle with, but instead God just wants me to let him in the boat.”

It’s so accurate. I can’t believe I’ve been struggling with these thoughts I thought I got over so long ago. I’ve definitely been using my foundation in my faith to invalidate what I’m going through. But the truth is that when we struggle with things that we thought we got over a long time ago, God is just making more room for even deeper healing :),” I texted her.

I sent her Ysablel’s exact text. “I’m so shook right now.”

“Wowowwow that is so cool!” She replied.

“Crazy night. What did you get on that math test?”

“An A-! It was super crazy. I felt really unprepared last night and I couldn’t really study properly so there was a point where I just put everything away and prayed for a while. And then today I didn’t try to cram during lunch or in the morning and I got into class and of course our test was a giant packet 😂. I didn’t even finish everything but I was strangely not stressed which is odd for me.”

“You just experienced God’s supernatural peace.

I’m so proud of you! You ran to Jesus first and experienced his power!”

“I guess so. The grade made no sense underneath my circumstances, like I know I didn’t make that happen on my own lol,” she texted me.

God takes care of the flowers without them having to do anything. When we’re weak, His glory appears.

“There are no coincidences in the kingdom of heaven. I guess we all need to let go a little more today. I’m so happy for you,” I texted her.

“Thank you so much!”

“I find it awesome how I saw the verses you sent me right after my test. The timing was so perfect,” she texted back.

“I sent you that when I was struggling to get anything done. It just popped in my head.”

“It was just like so perfect. You have no idea. Last night was so rough and I was definitely worrying a ton.”

A wave of joy flooded my heart. “These are the moments we realize how good God is.”

~

At worship the next day, the spirit was so heavy again. I noticed my roommate lifting her hands, so consumed in the joy of the music. Remembering how uncomfortable it was for her the first time she saw how expressive people were at DCF in worship and then seeing her get lost in the music so freely made me so happy.

Next to me, Dorothy was crying. I took in her for a long hug before we let go and continued to get wrecked. I was surprisingly not crying. I was so happy. I could feel chains falling. They were coming off one by one, ever so slowly, but I was confident that God was restoring me and would always be breaking chains off of my life for however long it took.

When the lights came up and the songs ended, something had shifted in the atmosphere. It had left 2 of my best friends crying. And the rest of us on a huge, spiritual high.

Ysabel hopped over a bunch of chairs to the back row where we were sitting and plopped herself on the chair next to my friend, Tristan.

“I got a word for you!” She exclaimed. I started laughing.

“I’ve been getting so many. I don’t know what is going on.”

Tristan got her first word. My roommate lifted her hands for the first time. Everyone was crying. And I had never been more grateful.

~

I was going through and reading all of this, and I was like geez. I attend an extremely liberal public college in California. Yet I’ve been finding Jesus everywhere.

The rest of my week was so good. I got lost going to office hours. I studied imperfectly. I had so many great conversations with people. I went on a really nice run yesterday and breathed in how beautiful campus is. And I keep reading that word over and over again. It is so true. Trusting in the foundation I’ve built isn’t the same thing as trusting completely in Jesus. Trusting in the growth mindset I’ve learned to have isn’t the same thing as trusting in Jesus. Those things are both great, and building our lives upon His love is a firm foundation. But even still, we always gotta shift our focus from what we build to Him in order to see his power.

So today, run straight to Jesus. Grace is waiting for ya. ❤

~

Call my name

And I will answer

All you need is here inside my arms

Just breathe, because you’ll be safe and sound

With me…

So rockabye baby

Come and rest 

You’ve been tired lately

Lay your head down

Don’t you think baby

I know best

I’ve been a father for a long time…

Steffany Gretzinger

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You Really Know Me

Campus is bustling today. It’s bustling every day. People here are constantly studying, hanging out, eating, sleeping, and partying. And there is a constant pressure when I am resting to be studying harder. When I am studying like crazy, there is always that feeling that I am not being productive enough with the time I have. When I’m spending time with people, I feel like the conversations I have are more important than my grades will ever be, until I walk into my first midterm with the hours upon hours of preparation I had put in and walk out still feeling like I failed it and wasn’t good enough. I walked out of my first math midterm last week laughing because it was such a disaster, except it was fine because I signed up to experience all the ups and downs of college including the disasters.

On Tuesday, one of my small group leaders, Michela, met with me and I shared with her a huge chunk of my life story. I told her that when I said yes to this school I was saying yes to the whole journey of weird professors, hard tests, and adjustment issues that every college student gets to embark on. I told her I was learning to focus more on doing the best I could each day with the time I was given and less about the results. I told her that my self-worth did not come from my performance in school, and about my whole journey of learning to find my self worth through God. She was encouraged by my story, shocked by my counter-cultural outlook on life. We related a lot to each other and she officially became another one of my mentors. Things were going great.

The day after I had my first bio midterm. I had my small group leader’s old test, and our bio midterm was almost exactly like it. After second-guessing myself on a few questions and choking on a few others, I couldn’t believe that I had just completely blew the midterm that everyone had told me would be easy and to not worry so much about. The math one everyone said would be hard, so my feelings for that one were validated. But walking out of the easiest midterm I was supposed to have defeated made me feel really stupid. Geez, maybe I’m not smart enough to be here. 

A whirlwind of thoughts flooded my head. You’re not smart enough to be here. You are going to fail all of your classes. This is exactly what you were afraid of happening. Nobody else choked as badly as you. This was easy for everybody else except you.

I couldn’t handle it. These were the thoughts my brain was so used to resorting back to from years of letting them control me when I was in middle school. Tears flooded my eyes. I needed to cry and figure out what was going on inside. Except it was dark outside and there are no places to be alone on my college campus.

I resorted to a stairwell on one of the newer dorm buildings. I sat there and allowed myself to feel every emotion that was pulsing through my body. What is going on? Where is this coming from? 

I cried out in anger as I thought of my parents, teachers, and youth leaders back at home. I was very lucky to have such amazing people in my life, but they were all expecting me to thrive here. If I told them I was doing badly they wouldn’t understand. They all think that I’m smart enough to be here. In fact they all probably thought I would come here and blaze the trail or something. That pressure weighed on me. They don’t know me. They don’t know how broken I really am, and they all should’ve seen this coming. 

I discovered that there was a part of me that actually did believe I wasn’t smart enough.

In fact, every time, even in high school when I would fail a test people would always say, “I’m sure you didn’t,” or “You are way too hard on yourself.” I pictured people telling me that and got so incredibly angry. You don’t know me. You don’t know me. You don’t know me. 

A small voice in my head said, “You’re right. You might’ve just completely tanked that. You really screwed that one up. And you know what? That’s okay. Because you can’t trash your future on a test. God is too good at fixing things up. And you are going to get up tomorrow and give it the best you’ve got, because that is all you can do and that is enough.”

It’s okay to fail. I was sick of people telling me that I wouldn’t. But you have to get up. You can’t stay in that place forever.

After processing my thoughts, Tristan, one of my friends, called me. I told her I was low key crying on one of the staircases in her dorm.

I didn’t tell her which one so she ran up and down all of them until she found me.

“Lea!” She wrapped me in a giant, Tristan hug. “What happened?”

“I choked on my midterm,” I said.

“Oh my gosh!”

“Well I just took it so I don’t know that yet. I tend to calculate the points of everything I miss after tests though, so I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have gotten more than a B-.”

She nodded slowly, empathizing with me tears. “Lea, maybe you tanked it and maybe you didn’t. But honestly, I would be more concerned if you didn’t care about it at all. You are so passionate about what you want to do. That’s why these tests hurt you so much.”

“My teachers in high school would warn us to not go to hard universities because they claimed that so many of us would fail our first midterm and then quit and believe the lie that they aren’t smart enough to be there, and then just go back home. But I think that’s so stupid!”

“Yeah, Lea, that’s not you at all.”

“If I wasn’t struggling here, then I wouldn’t be growing. And maybe I didn’t think that this thought of not being smart enough to be here would still get to me because I thought I got over that a long time ago. But I still struggle with it. I think I’m still trying to do school out of my own strength. I think God needs me to once and for all just surrender the whole dang thing to him,” I said, laughing through my tears.

“Wow, yeah. Girl, you’re going to do some great things. I’m so excited for you.”

She took me to her dorm room to grab a tissue. She came with me to the dining hall to get food and outside the dining hall we ran into the Wednesday night core group. The leaders at DCF had 2 small groups in our dorm area for freshman. Tristan went to the Wednesday one but I normally went to the Monday night one because it was more convenient for my schedule. We walked by and everyone greeted us. “Lea! Glad you’re here!” I looked at Tristan, laughing. I was not planning on going at all.

“I normally go to the Monday night one. Could I just crash today?”

“Of course!” Don, one of the leaders said.

It was an ironic night. The conversation was all about doing things out of our strength versus relying on God to provide for our visions. We read Matthew Chapter 6:

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

“Isn’t it so funny how God says each day has enough trouble of its own? It’s like a total, ‘I already know that your days are full of problems. Don’t even worry about it,'” Don said.

Tristan and I looked at each other every time people started talking about putting Jesus first and allowing everything else to fall into place. We looked at each other again when the discussion dove deeper into living life out of a love for him, trusting Him with everything.

One of my friends, Dorothy, opened up. “I was on a run today and asked God to tell me to stop when I reached exactly 2 miles, trusting that He would. When I checked, I was 0.2 away from 2 miles. And I just felt God saying that I needed to surrender a little bit more, because I was still holding onto that piece. I felt him saying, ‘You’ve already surrendered so much to me. But can you surrender just 2 tenths more?'”

I smiled. Our group nodded simultaneously, encouraged by her words. You’re already almost there. But can you surrender just a little bit more?

Nikita, one of the other leaders, handed each of us flowers from a bouquet to remind us that God takes care of the flowers without them having to do anything. And then we broke up into groups and prayed.

“Any prayer requests?” Louise, another leader asked us.

2 of my friends wanted prayer for more friendships where they felt fully known and fully loved and were discouraged by seeing so many people with already seemingly established friend groups. In reality, none of us actually had anything figured out. I volunteered to pray meaningful connections and relationships over them, as I felt like that was something I had already received here.

“What about you, Lea?”

“I just need some hardcore grace today,” I said, almost starting to cry again.

~

The following day, I ran into another girl from my small group in the dining hall, Kallista. We went to her dorm lounge to study together. Every time I tried to type a sentence on my post lab or do a math problem, my brain froze. The thoughts just kept coming. You’re not smart enough to be here. Everyone here knows how to do this homework. Your roommate was able to figure it out on her own. How come you can’t? Are you really just that stupid? And this post lab is so easy. Why are you struggling to finish it? You are really just not strong enough to be here. 

Geez. What is going on? I thought. I told Kallista that I couldn’t work anymore. I got up to stretch. She ditched her work as well.

“Are you like someone that needs to be in control of things?”

“I’m a lot better at surrendering than I used to be. But I guess I still suck,” I replied.

“I was talking about this with Michela when she met with me the other day. Every day, I have to wake up and let God be in control of my day. Because today I did that, and right now I just feel so free.”

“I just feel like I’m not smart enough to be here,” I said.

“That’s not true at all.”

“I know!” I said. Tears began to fall from my eyes. If you think I’m smart enough to be here, then you don’t actually know me. 

“I used to struggle so much with not feeling beautiful. I would look in the mirror and just tear myself apart. But what God says is beautiful is so different from what the world says is beautiful. What God says is smart isn’t what the world says is smart.”

That was so true.

I apologized for getting nothing done and she went to class. There was no way I was getting any work done after that so I went to the piano room and started singing this song:

You know when I rise

And when I fall

When I come undone

You see it all

And you know the stars

And you move the sea

And still you know me…

I allowed the music to fill the room. You know me God. You really do know me. I’m getting angry at all these people for thinking I’m smart by saying they don’t really know me, but you do. And I’m here. And this college experience has been more than I could ever dream, so you must really know me.

There are no coincidences in the kingdom of heaven. I did not randomly roll into the Wednesday night small group on accident. I wasn’t trying to end up here. I just did. God definitely provided for me all the time without me having to do anything. But here I was, still striving, still chasing my own success, when God’s vision for my life happens with His provision. And he was just going to keep mending my past and restoring my life. Here was exactly where I needed to be; imperfect, failing midterms, in this beautiful school full of people I encounter every day who need a fresh touch from heaven.

After my solo worship session, I got a text from Leanna Sheley (worship coordinator of Uncommon, the ministry I led at over the summer). I asked her to call me.

“Are you free this weekend? How about I come and visit you? It’s really not that far,” she replied.

“Of course,” I replied, relieved.

~

Some things that discourage me: People from different churches tearing each other apart. Comparison. Striving and pressure to always be doing something better with my time.

But if God uses imperfect people, can’t people encounter Jesus just as much in that imperfect church? Can’t God lead people to attend that imperfect church because it will change their life for the better? It’s not about the perfect church or place. It’s about where God is calling you to go at a particular time in your life.

If God uses imperfect people, isn’t comparing ourselves to each other useless? Because heart transformation can look different for each person but still be just as amazing.

And if God loves us as imperfect people, why are we still striving? As though success is going to fill the void in our heart more than Him. It’s as though getting to the top of that ladder that the world says we need to reach will bring us more happiness than worshiping Him. It won’t.

So today I am reminded that everyone has a story. And that so much has been going on in these last few weeks that I will never be able to capture with justice on this platform. To each their own story. To each their own dreams. To each their own journey.

Yesterday, Leanna drove up to my dorm from home to visit me. I took her on a tour of the whole campus, stopping at the piano by the Arboretum to sing a few worship songs and the dance room to do an aerial. After all, the version of Lea she knew was the worship leader. And we both agreed that God is in the details. That He truly does know us. And the different ways we all experience His power is what makes Him so amazing. We’re all on a journey of falling deeper and deeper in love with Jesus. We don’t have to do anything, because He will take care of us. We just get to appreciate the fact that nobody in this world has the same story we do. That the vision placed on your life is His vision set aside for you. And that the accidents, crazy encounters, failures, and emotions make your journey so uniquely beautiful. And He knows yours so well.

Dear God,

Thank you for knowing me. Thank you for knowing the depths of my heart. Thank you that all the things about me that I think disqualify me from your vision for my life do not. Because you really know me, and since I am here, that means you must really know exactly how much I’m supposed to be here. It’s been evident in the deep conversations I have with my roommate, the people I meet everywhere, and the encounters I’ve been having. I pray that I would continue to be able to pour into others while I’m here.

I pray for my roommate. I pray a fresh outpouring of your love would fall upon her. Michela told her that she really believes God gave her me as a safe place, and I’m thankful she was able to tell Michela everything she’s been feeling. I pray she would also one day realize that her self worth can’t come from her achievements and will learn what it’s like to truly walk in your love and grace.

And I pray for a steady flow of constant grace over my life as I fail to get anything done and take tests correctly. That imperfect blog post I get up is better than no blog post at all. That one hour I spend studying imperfectly is better than not studying at all. I pray I would keep making time for the things I love, as I am confident I am here for far more than just academics. I pray you would bless all the conversations I have with everyone and that you would help me trust you just a little more every day. Thank you that I rolled into that small group, and that my meltdown allowed me to build deeper connections with those people. Thank you that I felt like I failed that test because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have rolled in there and gotten to experience your grace. And lastly I pray that I would really be able to appreciate this journey you’ve given me. To each their own amazing journey, and thank you so much for mine. =)

Nothing is hidden from your sight

Wherever I go you find me

You know every detail of my life

Because you are God, and you don’t miss a thing…

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