Italy

So I am back from Italy. IT. WAS. AWESOME!

I saw so many awesome things; met a TON of cool people and the food…OMG the food.

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And, the best part…this trip was a fast and a major test on trust.

Let me explain.

Oh, FYI, I am going to bounce around in this quite a bit. Sorry, not sorry. But bear with me…

Every September my church does a fast.  We fast for different things: our promises, salvation for the lost, our nation, etc.  We were to pick a pleasure and a food.  So I ask God, “Okay, it’s September. What am I fasting this time? Is it sweets? A meal? Caffeine? Social media? Routine? (This one is tough for me; I am a serious lover of my routines)”.  As I am going through all of the things I could possibly fast, God interrupts me:

God: Italy is your fast.

Me: Are you sure?  Because this sure feels like cheating…

God: Trust me; this is your fast.

Me: You mean I can eat all the pizza, pasta and gelato I want?

God: I’d like you to practice some restraint and not go nuts, but yes you may eat those things.

Me: SWEET!!! Best. Fast. Ever!!!!!

So this trip is a fast. Great! I honestly thought :”Oh man I really lucked out this September; I get to explore a country on my own, eat awesome food and meet new people. Not really giving anything up at all…

Or so I thought.

God took away all comforts of the familiar, the known and the routine (which I LOVE) for me on this trip. It was just Him and I. I haven’t had time like that with God since I moved away for college when I was 18.  When I landed in Rome, there was no one to pick me up, no one to guide me as to where to go. I had to depend on God, for everything.

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And for that reason, I could have NO FEAR.

Before this trip happened, God did a TON of uprooting this year. Tons. Anything, anyone fear related had to go. It didn’t matter if it was close family or friends…it was gone. And it hurt. I couldn’t understand why it had to be that way and so sudden. I wanted to fix things, try to repair the broken things and confront the fears but God said to yield..and it was gone. Originally I thought it was because of the cancer diagnoses, and I needed solid people and things around me but I was wrong. It was for this trip. I could have no fear doing this trip. None.

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You see, when I am afraid, I can’t hear. I can’t hear God, any voice of reason or logic.  I can’t see.  All I hear are voices of doubt and panic and they are louder than my Father’s voice. Everything within me goes into self protect mode, I push God out of the way and I lean on my own strength. It’s dangerous enough doing that here at home, but even MORE dangerous operating like that in a foreign land. So I couldn’t have fear influencing me in any area of my life, no matter who it came from or where. It had to go.

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The only time I felt fear on this trip was on the plane to Rome. When you are flying, American Airlines has this screen where you can pull up a map to see how close you are to your destination. I usually love looking at that little map, but when I saw that my plane was closer to France than New York, I slightly panicked.

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” Oh snap! America is really far away!”

In that moment I wanted to reach out my arms and grasp for the tiny bit of America I could see left on that map. It finally felt real to me that I would be on my own, just me and whatever belongings I had in my suitcase and back pack for TWO WEEKS. The thought started to form in my head:

“I am al…”

God: “You are not alone.

 

So when I land in Rome, it is pouring. When it storms in Rome, it storms. The thunder is literally shaking the train station, there are people everywhere, everything is in Italian and I am thinking…”What on earth have I gotten myself into?”

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My first stop in Rome was to be  ICF Rome, a Christian church that was 45 minutes from the train station if I walked. Since it was storming like crazy, I had to use the bus. My original plan was to get to their 9:45 service for bible study, stay for the 11am church service, grab lunch then head back to the train station for my train to Padova at 4pm.

Yeah, that plan didn’t happen.

It took a while for me to figure out how to get euros, then how to get bus tickets, then how to figure out which bus to take and then find where the buses were to get to the actual church. By the time I got on a bus, 9:45 had come and gone, but hey! I found the correct bus.

One of the biggest differences between Italy and America is signage. Street signs aren’t really a thing over there. Sometimes a street name is carved into a building, or written on a wall. So when you are going somewhere you REALLY have to know where you are going and what you are looking for or else you get lost, fast.

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I did not want to get lost, because I REALLY wanted to make the church service because: A) it was storming like crazy outside and I really didn’t want to sight see in this weather. B) The church would be dry and warm unlike me, who was now soaking wet with a very battered umbrella. C) I really wanted to go to church because this was the whole reason for this stop and I didn’t want to wait in the train station until 4pm so I was pretty determined to make church happen.

So as I am on the bus contemplating all this and trying to figure out the bus stop from the directions I was given, God speaks up:

God:  “You should ask for help.”

So I turn around and smile politely at the lady behind me. “Parla inglese?”

She smiles nervously, pinches her fingers together and says “A little” I then try to explain where I am going and what I am trying find and we spend the next five or so minutes trying to communicate. She decides that it would be best to find an English speaker for me. She turns to the lady behind her, asks in Italian if she speaks English and thank God…she does! Even cooler, she’s going to the same church I am going to!  How cool is God?

So I got to church. The service was great, I met really nice people who helped me get back to the train station and I had some of the best pizza I’ve ever tasted.

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That’s pretty much how this trip went. God led me along everywhere and provided everything.  He was my pilot. He guided and I followed. When I needed to speak up and ask for help, he provided help through anyone I met. When I needed to follow Him and just learn how to read a map…I learned how to read a map. (I disobeyed  in Verona and tried to do things my own…and ended up with an unwanted shadow for three hours. Lesson learned.)

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And the best thing: other than that brief moment on the plane…I felt no fear on this trip. None. It was awesome to do this without fear. I knew with everything in me that He would take care of me and I could just lean on Him. It was so freeing, and since I had that peace; I had a blast.

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There are so many more stories to share but this is getting long. But I’ll leave you guys with this: I am  determined to no longer let fear control  my life in any way at all anymore. Fear is stupid  if it is holding you back from what God has called you to do. Heck, even if you don’t believe in God, fear should never be the reason for not doing something you want to do EVER.

Fear is the enemy’s way of stealing your joy and robbing what God has for you. Christian or not, the devil doesn’t discriminate.  He hates all of us, he loves to steal and he uses fear (among other things) to steal from us. And it is so not okay. So if you feel fear and you want to do something, do it afraid. God will be there. And if you mess up (and this is a perfectionist talking) that’s okay, because God restores.

So that was my  fast/trip. It was God’s way to restore in me something I managed to forget along the way: God’s got my back, I can trust him and with Him I have no reason to fear..

Jeremiah 29:11- “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a hope and a future.”

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Forgive

I find my voice better through writing instead of speaking. Forgiveness and loving others is currently something I am working through. It’s not been easy. Just when I think I’ve got it, I find myself stumbling again.  Here’s my random thoughts on what I’ve been working on this past year. I hope it makes some sort of sense.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. Love is not rude,  it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs…”

“Forgive.”

Keeping no records of wrongs means to forgive. To give a clean slate. To start over. Okay, I can do that. I can start over. But I can’t seem to get past verse 5 in 1 Cor 13: 4-8.

It’s the forgetting that is difficult. The reminders, the wounds not yet closed, past pains still fresh. Echos of past offenses rearing their ugly heads no matter how much I shout them down.  I rebuke the reminders that the Devil loves to dig back up and telling Him it is all on the Cross. Sometimes the shouting works. But there are times I find myself on my knees, his shouting louder than mine, crippled by past pain.

When the storm seems too rough, and the pain is too great, I want to run. I want to put on my running shoes, pack my bags, buy my ticket and bounce.  I want to rip up the roots that God has so carefully planted and take off. Vanish. Instead, I run to God, chaining myself to the Cross because if I don’t…I’ll run elsewhere.

Instead I let the waves hit and cling to the only hope I have in front of me, and remind myself :

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. Love is not rude,  it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs…”

“Forgive.”

Forgive in spite of pain, disappointments, broken trust, wrongdoings. It seems like so much, difficult for my human heart to comprehend. I want to self protect so that no pain is ever experienced again. God calls me to put down my shield, to be open, to love. To forgive. He applies His healing salve to my wounds that I thought my shield was preventing.

In those moments, I turn to the Lord and say,

“God how can I open my heart to those who have caused so much pain? How can I let them in? How can I let them get close again?

God gently reminds me,

” Baby girl (His name for me), I do that with YOU. With everyone.”

He reminds me of the Israelites, Gomer, Peter, David, Judas, Jacob, Adam, Eve…the list is truly endless. All of our names are on that list. God gives us so much grace and mercy. He could treat us like we treat Him.

I’ve  hurt my Father. I’ve turned away. I’ve put others things above Him. Yet, he waits. He’s patient and waits and when I’m ready, when my striving and wandering are done…He’s there. His arms are open; He showers me with His mercy, grace and love. He forgives.

He’s calling me to do the same.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. Love is not rude,  it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs…”

” Forgive.”

Forgive as God has forgiven me. Love like He loves me. Give clean slates to those who have hurt me.  God says that love covers a multitude of wrongs. I really hope it can. I need it to. I don’t want this to hold me back.

 

 

 

Normal

Does God ever freak you out?

I know He does with me. At least He has been lately.

So, in the past few months, some things that I have prayed for have started to materialize. It’s been cool to experience it, and even cooler to know that God is in it. It’s all very new for me, and as each day goes by, I am getting slightly better at giving things up and just trusting God. It’s still a little scary for me and I still battle doubt, but I am being better about coming to God and voicing my fears. It’s daily thing I have to do in order to not go nuts.

God revealed something to me last Friday that really shook me up.  Things just got a little too real and I FLIPPED OUT. Bad. I told God I was done; I couldn’t do what He had planned. Instead of  running away like I normally do, I did the next best thing: I put on my running shoes, grabbed my head phones and went for a midnight run in hopes to drown out anything God wanted to say to me. However, God is much louder than any music I could put on.

At this point of my life, sometimes I feel like a teenager in my relationship with God. When I am freaked, frustrated, not getting my way, I talk to Him like a teenager daughter would speak to her father. This is the gist of our convo that night:

God: “Alexis…”

Me: ” I’m not going. I’m not going to do it. I can’t do this.”

God: Yes you can and yes you are.”

Me: “You can’t make me.”

God: “Alexis, tell me why you can’t do this.”

Me: “I’m scared. I don’t know what’s going on, I can’t see what is coming and it is freaking me out.”

God: Why are you worried about things that have not happened yet?”

At this point I stop running.

Me: “Why can’t you clue me in? I’ve trusted you, followed you. I don’t even recognize myself anymore. It’s freaking me out. I don’t even know who I am anymore. And this new thing…I don’t even know how to handle it. I can’t handle it on my own and I don’t like it.

God: “These are all good things. I know it’s scary, but you just have to TRUST me. Follow me. I know the outcome of everything. Just follow me.

Me: I just…you know what? I was fine. I was just fine. I started this trusting, following, believing, dying to self thing and now I feel nuts. Now I feel so vulnerable. I was fine…completely fine…”

God (Pretty annoyed now): YOU WERE NOT FINE. You were merely existing. Dying. Compromising. Sleeping. I let you sleep. For three years, I let you sleep. Now you are awake. ALIVE. Now start living, obeying and following ME.”

When God yells at you, it’s a good thing to stop whatever you were doing to get that response. He’s pretty patient and in that moment, I did not want to try his patience any further. However, I had one last thing to say.

Me: “Okay, I am sorry. God, I just want to be normal.”

He chuckles as He answers me:

“Honey, you were never meant to be normal. You are set aside, and called to be different from everyone else. Never will you be normal.”

After that conversation, I’ve kinda been in a funk. I know that the giving up control, trusting, following things are good for me, but at times it gets me. I used pride myself on my independence, my drive, my ability to just jump into things and all of that is changing rapidly.  I’ve become this dependent person, dependent on Him and it’s just so abnormal for me. The more I follow, the crazier I feel…does that make sense? I mean, I’m not unhappy by any means, and sure a couple of things could be better, but I just feel…abnormal.

So eventually, I calmed down and enjoyed some much needed introvert time. I spent my weekend away from people, visiting my bootleg San Diego and shopping. On Sunday, I decided to tune into my home church. The sermon was great, and at the end my pastor had a word for everyone:

You are not NORMAL.

Ah.

Well at least I am not going through this “not normal” thing alone.

Sometimes I want to give into the world and do my own thing.  I see some of my non christian friends, and they seem to have it so easy. They just do what they want, when they want. Seems like a great, carefree life.

In the same token, I remember when I lived that life. I wasn’t happy nor was I unhappy. I was just ambivalent, not really caring about anything. I was just…there and I didn’t like it. I was always longing for something more.

God is patient, caring and loving and will always be by my side, no matter how much I freak out. I know as this year goes on, and things keep materializing like they are, there will probably be more “freak outs.” I have to look at these moments of uncertainties as ways to strengthen my trust and dependance on Him. I have to accept the fact that I am just not meant to be NORMAL.

This walk is one heck of a ride, but I am glad that I am on it.

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Ugh…Why don’t you just die!!!

Ok, contrary to my dramatic title  for this blog, (which I’ll address later) I had a really good weekend. I didn’t work Saturday because I had my first race and it was pretty awesome. My friend and I finished 4.2 miles in a little over an hour. It was hot, early and there were thousands of people but I loved every minute of it.

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Running that race and completing it was probably one of my favorite moments in life. I know it was only 4.2 miles, but to complete that thing was a huge accomplishment for me. Running in general has been a huge accomplishment. It’s literally changed my life. I am healthier, a lot more confident and finally doing something just for me. So to my friend Kyesha, who suggested I sign up for this race and the half marathon in September…thank you! Running has done so much for me and you are a big part of that.

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So, back to the title.

Sunday, my friend and I checked out an young adults group at the church we attend. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to visiting this group. I am terrible with meeting new people. It scares the crap out of me.  I always feel awkward and I have a hard time keeping conversations going. In my head, I just knew that it would be awkward and uncomfortable just like every other church group we visited. I was ready to just stick by my friend and bail out.

I was completely wrong. The church group was amazing. I was slightly uncomfortable in the beginning but as we got going and started studying the theme of community, all the discomfort slowly seemed to diminish. I started to push myself to be more social, to try to make connections and not fall back into my, “I’m an introvert, I don’t do new people” thing. At the end of the study group, I’d met four or five new people, knew their names, agreed to go and actually went to lunch with them and… signed up to lead an ice breaker next week. I figured that if I can lead groups for 20 or so psychotic people on a weekly basis, than I can do a five minute ice breaker for a small bible study.

WTH?! Who is this weird person who is actually attempting to socialize like a human being and actually enjoying it? Where did she come from and where the heck has she been?!

This is when I realized, the person who is getting in the way of fellowship with others, building a strong community of christian friends and growing in my faith with others…it’s me.

Ouch.

I need to die to myself.

But I'm awesome

Dying to myself and yielding to God has always, ALWAYS been something that I struggle with on a daily basis. Heck, I’ve struggled with it most of my life, particularly my adult life.  I have to admit, it’s been difficult viewing “dying to self” as a positive thing. For me, I like to control everything. Don’t get me wrong, I am pretty laid back, but when it comes to my life, I am a bit of a control freak. I like to do what I want, when I want to do it and how I want to do it, with very limited input from others.  Dying to myself and yielding to God, means giving up control and frankly, I’m not a fan. I love God, but as hard as it is to admit, I love myself more. I need to die to that mentality, and it’s not an easy task.

20 years later: still not crossed off.

Yielding also means trusting…and I struggle with trust. Not just trusting others, but trusting God. I’ve walked this walk since I was eight, and yet trust is something I struggle with. I really need to fix that. I am constantly working on it, but its getting old and this trust issue crap needs to die.

This is no longer a valid excuse...

Dying to myself, when I do finally let go and do it, actually turns out pretty well. For example, if I would have stuck to my “shy, not going to talk to anyone, hang back and watch personality“, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to engage with that group. Yes I was super uncomfortable and scared at first, but it passed. I was able to function and engage in great conversation about Christianity, something I have been STARVING for and begging God for with others here in AZ. I was able to recognize a place where I could actually start building that community I’ve wanted. I started to see the beginnings of the things I asked God for, and I was thrilled. Sure, it wasn’t on my time line (it NEVER is) but it’s happening.

True story...

During our group, our bible study leader mentioned that community takes a long time to build. I think when I first came back to AZ, I expected to build community with others right away. When I think back to my California community, it took me nearly 3 years to get as close to those guys as I did. And for them, I know it was like pulling teeth. As for my friends here in AZ, it took a year or two with some of them; the only odd ball being one of  my best friends. We somehow clicked right away despite my social awkwardness. So, looking at all this…minus my best friend…my expectations were clearly out of touch with reality.

I realize dying to yourself isn’t always related to Christianity. If I hadn’t died to my laziness, I wouldn’t have seriously picked up running and I wouldn’t be as happy or healthy as I am now. If I hadn’t died to my unhappiness, I would still be at my awful job at the state wasting away, hating life and trying not to open a vein in my office.   If I hadn’t died to my pride and lack of self worth, I would never know the power of confrontation and forgiveness. If I hadn’t died to my fear, I would have never left Georgia. There are so many benefits to “dying” but when I am trapped in my fear of letting go of what’s familiar, I seem to forget them.

I see my faith, my walk as something that is always growing and always a work in progress. I am human, and I fail on a daily basis, but I am actively fighting to kill the things in me that hold me back and keep me from being the person I invision myself to be in Christ. There are days where I literally scream “WHY DON”T YOU JUST DIE??!!“, to my fear, my trust issues and my pride.  I want to get to the point that I just willingly yield to Him and those things just fall away. I want to get to the point where my first choice is to always go to Him. I want to get to the point where I love him more than myself.

I’ll end this with this poem I found that describes where I want to be as I am out of words and need to go study:

The great church hunt…and other ramblings about trying to be a Christian.

So this new year has started off pretty awesome. New house, new job and renewed friendships makes life feel pretty awesome. In the past 5 weeks or so, I find myself disliking life here in Arizona  less and less and learning to appreciate what I have more. It’s nice to wake up and finally feel you have some idea that what you are doing is what you are supposed to be doing. It’s a pretty nice feeling actually.

Don't ask...

One area that I am still lacking in is the God area. I know I keep bring this up, but alas, it’s still an issue.  Now I’ve been told (and I know) that I was incredibly spoiled by my awesome church family back home in Fresno. I got amazing support in my faith and grew a ton while I was there. I made some awesome lifelong friendships and grew to love and trust other Christians because of my time at the Revival Center. Honestly, if it wasn’t for this place, my pastor and my friends at this church, I may have left Christianity. But that’s another story.

So, I’ve been in AZ a little over six months now and I still have struggled to find a church that is a good fit. Arizona has an interesting mix of churches. A lot of churches here are mega-churches, some are really tiny churches. Some churches have great teachings but the worship/ fellowship area is lacking. Some churches are great on fellowship, but the teachings have been downright bizarre or flat out wrong. Some churches have made me feel if I was in kindergarten for Christians. Others have used the guilt method.  I hate the guilt method by the way; how can we want to do anything for God from our hearts if we are guilted into it? How is that perfect love?

Who's bringing red vines?!

(Off my soap box and back to the post…)

Some churches  I’ve been to hardly talk about God at all, and focus on starting/ raising a family, money, being a good wife, etc.  Some talk about manipulating God and becoming the one to control Gods power. The sad part about the last church I mentioned, it was one of the ones I liked the most…and it turned out to be kind of a cult. Again, another story.

So, each church has varied greatly, but after each visit, I either leave feeling confused, awkward or irritated from my experience.  I know there is no such thing as a perfect church and I may be searching for a long time.  In the mean time I gotta find a way to feed my faith and fill that hole. It’s growing bigger and bigger and getting harder to ignore. I miss and long for the fellowship with other Christians and miss having a church home where I can grow and learn.

This is how I used to feel...

I know I need to feed myself spiritually. If I’m not getting it from the church, I have to provide for myself. I have to admit, it’s hard for me to do it alone. I need support in this area; it’s really hard for me without it.  I feel like I was taken out of a great supportive environment and left to fend for myself. Now I know this is not true because I choose to come here, but I am just having a really difficult time doing this alone.  He says we aren’t meant to be alone, but it’s kinda how I feel at the moment.

Kinda feeling like this...

In all fairness and not to completely whine about being here and not being comfortable, I have grown here quite a bit. I seem to have gotten a crash courses in trust, forgiveness and confrontation and am still in those courses. I hope to get an “A”  across the board when it’s all said and done. I really had forgiveness issues when I came here. I was the queen of cut-off. If you upset me, instead of dealing with it, I’d just cut that person out. Now, although its hard sometimes, I work harder at restoring and keeping friends when things go sour. On the flip side, I got to experience what it is like to experience unforgiveness and it SUCKED. It’s always a work in progress and there are times when I slip and regress back to my old ways, but I’ve gotten a lot better.  The end is result has been much stronger and deeper friendships so thats a plus.

As for confrontation, that’s still hard and I am constantly working to find my voice and stand up for myself. It’s funny, when do you have a weakness, God will find situations or friends to help you out in that area. I had previously had a job (no more, yay!) where I met that challenge every single day and towards the end, I found myself questioning my boss on decisions she made or defending a service denied to a client. I really didn’t stand up to the things she did to me personally which is my only regret, but what’s in the past is in the past. I am still meeting this challenge in certain friendships too, and there are times I want to give up but I’m hanging in there. As I said earlier, everything will be better for it.

I find that forgiveness and confrontation, although really hard things to do, really help build trust in others. Every person that I’ve had a difficult time with this past year and I stuck with my vow to confront them and forgive them our friendship/relationship has improved greatly. Of course I still continue to friendships/relationships where this rarely comes up and trust is already there with out it. I love that actually, but at least now through the difficult relationships/friendships I’ll know how to deal when conflict does arise.  Bottom line, conflict, forgiveness and trust are key in any relationship and without this element all you get is surface level friendships and relationships that really go no where.

Why even bother?

All in all, I’ve gone through quite a bit since being here, not all of it easy, but I believe it was necessary. I guess I got comfortable back home, heck I know I did and God saw that I needed to shake things up. I’m not too fond of the shaking right now, and I am hoping He’ll let up just a bit…a tiny bit maybe…so I can breathe.  In the end, I know its all to help me grow and become a better person, friend and Christian.