Waiting: The Beauty of His Perfect Timing

   Waiting is a beautiful process. It's a process that I've been persistently a part of and an ongoing event that will always encompass many parts of my life. It's a process that every single one of us has been a part of, since the day we were born until our last day on earth. From our childhood memories of excitedly waiting for that toy we've been wanting for 'ages' to waiting in the car, repeatedly asking, 'Are we there yet?' to just waiting in lines, we all understand the frustration and feelings that waiting for something can bring.

  But today, I've come to understand a deeper meaning of the word 'wait'. I've come to see the beauty and the pleasure that waiting for something can bring.

  Recently, I've been caught up in a battle between the desires of my own plans and the desire to please God and experience His. I want to be a part of His best for my life, yet I struggle with standing firm in that desire. I stumble and trip over the 'rocks' of my own wants and wishes and forget that the One who placed certain desires upon my heart is the One who knows best.

Because time and time again, I have been coming to understand that God really knows what He is doing.

And honestly, I do not.

  He is the One who created the world. He is the One who calls us by name, who created us in our mother's womb, who was and who is and who is to come. He is the One who came to earth as a human, who knows and understands every single one of our pains and our hurts.

  He has great plans for us. But when we turn to the plans of our own hearts, when we follow our hearts instead of His, that is when life takes a turn for the worse. That is when we end up at the foot of shame, of emptiness, and of a deep, deep wondering of who we really are.

   I could go on forever of the number of times I've wanted to do something, but as soon as I surrendered my plans to Him, everything changed. Certain people began to appear less and less in my life. Certain events that I wished to happen never occurred. And while many times, I never realized why God did what He did, I know that He was looking out for me. While I can't see the big picture, He can. He works everything together for the good of those who love Him, and He is knitting our lives into one big masterpiece that He can use to accomplish His purposes, through those who are willing to obey and glorify Him. Other times, I was able to experience exactly what God was doing, as eventually I saw that God has a bigger and better plan, and through experiencing His bigger and better plan, I was filled with awe and praise for His goodness in my life.

   That time I wanted to volunteer at a vet's office, but no matter how hard I tried, it didn't work out? God had a greater plan. Little did I know how much volunteering at the animal shelter would change my life.

   Waiting is hard. But I've learned that waiting on God,  as I trust in His plans, rather than my own, has led me to a life filled with excitement, goodness, and unexpected memories and pleasures that I could never have thought of or wished for. Rather than chasing after my own dreams at my own timing, I'm learning to surrender my dreams to the One who knew them before I even took my first breath. Then I must wait, wait for His timing for this dream, or even more, His greater plan, which is so much better than my own, as much as I try to convince myself it is not. 

  As for you, this process might mean waiting for that job you've been desperately wanting, that perfect college you've always wanted to attend, the dream guy or girl you've always wished for. It might even mean giving up what you want so that God can give you what you would really want.

   Why try to live according to our own plans when we know they will end up failing without the presence of our Savior's hand in our lives? Why try to follow our own hearts when we can live out the amazing plans God has for us, plans that have been thoughtfully and carefully made, that have been drenched in His perfect love and grace?

  Whatever you have been praying for, wishing for, or searching for, I want to encourage you to stop and wait. Take a deep breath, surrender it to God. Let Him develop patience in you. And then trust in His timing.

 I promise you, it will be worth it.

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.
Proverbs 16:9


Walking on the Waves of Worry

Via Pinterest//Bethel Music's "You Make Me Brave"
With every challenge, I begin to drown.
  As I step onto the shore, I begin to drown in a sea of worry, in the waters of fear and distrust. Worry abounds in thought upon thought. It begins to control me.

  But just as I begin to worry, Jesus stands on the other side of the waves, calling me out, asking me to walk upon the waters with Him.

  Because of Him, He lifts me up out of the waters and saves me. His strength enables me to rise upon the waves of life, despite my drowning in the waters of worry and fear in every challenge.

It is these truths that God has revealed to me as I face the obstacle of worry.

    Recently, I was overcome in a week of stress. I had a huge paper due in my English Composition course, a huge (I mean, HUGE...30% of my grade) test in my U.S. History course, and then a math test, Spanish quiz, as well as other assignments due in my high school classes. I had no idea how I would make it. I was beyond stressed. Not only was I afraid of not doing well, but my schedule was so full that I was beginning to feel hopeless in just completing everything. But I knew that I can do all things through the One who strengthens me, and that I did. Placing my full trust in Him, despite the nagging worries swarming my thoughts, I still allowed God to work as He allowed me to successfully complete the week.

   Even despite obstacles, such as test date changes in math (after a full night of studying!) and other assignments popping up, God's love continued to shine. And I had a hope in my heart and a peace in my mind that everything was going to be okay.

  Initially, I was drowning. But Jesus helped me out of the waters and gave me peace. There was such a strong hope and calmness about me, a notion that everything was going to be okay.

    That Thursday, after a full week of assignments and tests completed, I had one thing left. I was about to face the biggest worry, my first test in my college history class. Everything else was completed. The week was almost over, but the biggest worry of mine was not yet able to pass.

    Sitting in my office chair, I was about to start off my day, before studying for the test, with time in His Word, and as I sat there, I knew that God wanted me to read something different, outside of what I had been reading in my daily plan, something that would prepare me for the day ahead of me. In the stillness of late morning, I asked God to reveal to me what He would like me to read. As I sat there in the silence, the thought of Matthew Chapter 6 kept appearing again and again in my mind. But I was so positive that it was my own thoughts, a thought of a random chapter that was not going to be of any help in regards to what I was really wanting to hear from God through His Word. But again and again and again, the thought kept popping into my mind. Eventually, I decided to read the chapter, although my mind was still in a state of doubt.

Sure enough, I opened my Bible to Matthew 6, and this is what I read:
 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 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?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Wow. I had read these verses so many times in my life, but I had forgotten its location in Matthew 6. Chills ran through my bones.

   God really does speak. His care and movement in our lives is so evident once we open our eyes to the blindness of the dark, shielding us from the clarity of His presence. Just when we decide to place all of our strength in Him, that is when we can walk on the waters of life. He speaks because He cares. But He moves when we have a heart of faith and devotion to Him.

   That day, I was reminded that if God takes care of the animals and the plants, He will surely take care of me. When I just put Him first, everything will fall into place. So as I placed everything at His feet, I knew that His words were a signal of the blessings that were about to come.

Sure enough, the week was filled with A's upon A's, including my history test.

  No glory to me, but all glory to the King on the throne! The King of surpassing greatness, the One who values us more than the flowers of the field and the birds of the air. The One who took it so far to die for US on the cross, because He loves us just that much.

  It was Him that helped me do the impossible that week. Remember that worry I had at the beginning of the week? I was not just worried about failure, but COMPLETION.  

   But Jesus gave me faith, and I was able to conquer the waves of worry and of life.
What's the point of worrying when His hand is holding my life? Why worry when I can place my full trust in a God who parted the Red Sea, created every creation in the universe, and who walked on the water?

And yes, He is the same God who is holding your life too!


Why You Should Consider Dual Enrollment

   This school year, I have had the privilege of being a part of the dual enrollment program as a high school junior. For those of you who do not know about the program, dual enrollment provides high school juniors and seniors with a free, rigorous college education while allowing them to obtain credit for both high school and college at the same time. Because I was uncertain about taking so many college classes at such an early time in my life, I decided to try two this year. If I could go back, I would have taken more. Dual enrollment has honestly been the best academic decision I have ever made. 

   Before I go into detail, I am aware that many of you are proponents of the Advanced Placement program, and that you have been successful in many of the AP classes available. I'm not saying that AP classes should not be taken, nor am I saying that dual enrollment is right for everyone. On the same note, I can also say that I was once in AP, was extremely successful, but at the same time, discovered an alternative path this year through dual enrollment that has been one of the greatest blessings. In fact, I was headed into the AP direction, although confused and in prayer about whether I should continue to do so, when God stopped me in my tracks and answered my prayers. Somehow, in some way, a conversation arose with a shelter volunteer who was a dual enrollment student, and from then on, I knew that it was worth a try. I'm so thankful God placed that sweet girl in my life. My school life has changed dramatically!

  This year, I was able to take only four high school classes, three of the four classes being electives. I was able to sleep in an extra hour and leave an hour early from school every day of the week. I took my two college classes in the afternoon and at night, which, for the majority of the classes, only took place once a week for two and a half hours. That's not the only reason you should consider dual enrollment though. After doing a research paper on dual enrollment for my English Composition class, the statistics prove its effectiveness. Here are eight reasons why you should consider taking dual enrollment classes:

1. Through dual enrollment, you can accomplish many, if not all, of the credits needed to accomplish your AA degree. My suggestion is to focus on getting as many of your core classes needed for your AA degree while you can. From English Composition to College Algebra, taking the classes needed for your first college degree will save you a ton of time later. And if you complete enough college classes now, you might begin college as a sophomore or junior after you graduate from high school!

2. Many people worry that they are wasting time if they don’t receive credit or if their credits do not transfer to the college after graduating. However, the research I conducted for my English class may eliminate any worries. Ready for the statistics? According to a study, 98% of students earned credit for dual enrollment classes. In a study that compared the number of dual enrollment and AP credits that transferred to colleges, it was found that less than 75% of AP credits were accepted, while 95% of dual enrollment credits were.  In a different study of college-credit programs (not just Dual Enrollment), of the 17.5% of students who didn’t receive credit, 82% came from Advanced Placement. Not only that, but research shows that 91% of schools in the nation accept dual enrollment credits, and if you are going to a college within the state, every single college in the state of Florida is required to accept dual enrollment credits, as long as they offer the courses taken.

3. As I mentioned earlier, dual enrollment has enabled me to have a flexible schedule. If you take dual enrollment classes at the college, which is definitely my recommendation if you have the opportunity to do so, each class is only offered one to three times a week. Not only that, but you pick your schedule, classes, times of classes, and professors online. Basically, you can create a schedule that fits in with your lifestyle and weekly plans. 

4. The amount of money saved is one of the biggest benefits of taking dual enrollment classes. While in some states, you have to pay minimal fees, the majority of dual enrollment classes, including college tuition, textbook, courses, and all other college costs, are completely taken away! In fact, in the state of Florida, dual enrollment classes are offered completely free of charge. The more classes you take now, the less expenses you or your parents will have to pay later! Dual enrollment saves thousands of dollars.

5.  There is not a better way to prepare a high school student for their academic future than by placing them in an actual course at a college. Dual enrollment, when taken at the college, will expose you to the college environment. You will learn the expectations of college professors as you take on the role of a real college student. You will be able to interact with college peers and learn the ways of a college student. Becoming a college student while still in high school is so beneficial when preparing you for the later college years. Not only that, but dual enrollment has been directly linked to increasing student performance! It has increased the graduation rate, college dropout rate, as well as high school drop out rate.

6. In contrast to AP classes, it is a lot easier to pass a dual enrollment class and receive college credit. Instead of working to pass an AP exam, dual enrollment students must receive a C or higher in their college course to receive credit! 

7. While AP students often have a large number of assignments, dual enrollment students, because of the difference in high school and college grading systems, usually receive very little in comparison. In regards to stress, I have had one of the best school years of my life because of this! While my classes were not easier, I had so much less work to do, giving me the chance to have many free weekends and opportunities to do things outside of homework and school. 

8. Students receive double the credits in dual enrollment compared to AP because college courses are completed by semester, rather than a school year. If the student passes the exam, one year in an AP course normally distributes three credits per class. But dual enrollment students receive the same number of credits per semester. So by taking dual enrollment classes, you receive double the number of college credits an AP student receives!

   If you are an incoming high school junior or senior, I recommend taking dual enrollment courses. Becoming a college student while in high school has been an awesome opportunity that I do not regret being a part of. I can't wait to see what God has in store as I continue in my dual enrollment experience! 

"Dual Enrollment Offers a Bridge to College" by Fawn Johnson                         
"Dual Enrollment: The Way Forward" by Jad and Hassan Khazem
"The Changing Policy Framework of Dual Enrollment" by Jad and Hassan Khazem

Doggy Kisses & the Creator's Love

   As a volunteer at the animal shelter, I meet a number of dogs every week that touch my heart and bring me to a state of compassion. I meet dogs of different temperaments, ones with various levels of comfort and assurance with humans, which is so often dependent on their previous circumstances, but most of all, I experience a love that is so real, a bonding so close. Oftentimes, I will meet dogs of extreme affection. These are the dogs that will shower you in kisses again and again. Recently, I have interacted with such dogs.

Super sweet Aymie at Clay Cty Animal Control
   It's the kisses of a dog that show that you are wanted. It's their kisses that say, "I love you", and "Thank you for being here for me". Other times, it's a simple "hello".  Whatever the case, it's the kisses of a dog that show that you are loved, that show that just as the love of a dog remains constant, the same should be returned to them.

   It's the kisses of a shelter dog that bring me back to volunteering. The consistent, never-ending love of a shelter dog. A love that remains even when they're dumped by their owners, abused, beaten, or are feeling worn down from months upon months of being in a shelter. A love that they so desperately desire in return. It's their love that is a reminder that we really are not alone. It's their love that reflects the love of our Creator, a love so deep and so wide that no matter what our circumstance, no matter what we do, His grace is sufficient, and His love for us doesn't end.

And just when we fall and feel like no one could ever love us because of what we have done, Jesus stands with open arms, waiting for us to surrender.

What a glorious picture of the love God has for us, which is a hundred times stronger than the love of His beautiful creatures.

It's a doggy kiss, the never-failing love of these shelter creatures, that remind me that I am not alone. The simple, little things of life are enough to prove it. We are not alone. We are loved. And the forgiving, unconditional kiss of a dog is a beautiful reminder of this profound truth.


Why You Should See The Movie "Do You Believe?"

    Recently, I've had the privilege of seeing the movie "Do You Believe?" in theaters. Not only did I watch it a few weeks ago with family and friends, but I returned to the theaters for a second time today to watch it again. Everyone should see it. It's a film that leaves a mark on your heart and a movement in your soul, a movie that motivates you to get up and do something. From a discussion with my movie partner and friend (and without giving too much away!), here are my top 5 reasons you should see the movie "Do You Believe?":

1. "Do You Believe?" is one of the best movies I've ever seen.
"God's Not Dead" lovers, you will not be disappointed! "Do You Believe" is set up in a similar fashion but with a totally different storyline and feel. It encourages and motivates while bringing forth a swarm of action-packed, heart-pounding scenes. I could see it again and again!

2. "Do You Believe?" places you into scenes and stories of reality.
''Do You Believe?" is a movie of twelve different lives, twelve different stories, that collide together. It's a movie of twelve stories that aren't real, but are realistic and could easily happen in today's world. While there are a few parts that probably wouldn't occur the way they did in reality, the majority of the movie is realistic and relatable, drawing you closer to each character as you understand and feel their hurts and situations. As you witness the outcome of many of their stories, you will leave with hope.

3. "Do You Believe?" is powerful.
This movie is probably the most powerful movie I have ever seen. It will convict you, strengthen your faith, and move you to your feet. It gave me chills countless times. It illustrates redemption and the love of Jesus in a transforming fashion. I have no words to say. You will leave there with a soul that has been moved and touched.

4."Do You Believe?" will frequently transform you from a burst of laughter to a shower of tears.
Not only is it powerful, but "Do You Believe?" will make you laugh, cry (in sadness as well in happiness!), cover your face, and shake. You will witness horrible events, as well as miracles. I rarely cry in movies, but this movie is a tear-jerker! I wasn't the only one. The sound of sniffles could be heard from across the room and across my row. The message is moving though, and while the movie will probably make you cry, you will leave happy. Believe me!

5. "Do You Believe?" will strengthen your faith and motivate you to make a difference for Christ.
Most of all, "Do You Believe?" is one of the most faith-strengthening movies I've ever seen. It left me asking the question, "Do I really believe in the cross of Christ?", and "If so, what am I going to do about it?". I left wanting to make a difference for Christ and to stand up in faith. I left wanting to really live like Jesus. I left rededicating everything to Him. Being a Christian starts with belief, but then our faith must turn into action! The message is simple but evident throughout the movie. Without giving too much away, you will leave inspired, strengthened, and motivated. And for those who aren't Christians, you may have a change in thought and belief!

With that being said, you should see "Do You Believe?"! It is one of the best movies I've ever seen. You won't regret it!