In a previous blog I shared about 2 of my favorite apps. Just recently, a new app was released that I have been enjoying. It’s called If: Gathering.
Jennie Allen is an author and founder of the If:Gathering, which is a community of women who explore, “What IF we lived like Jesus?”
I previously had signed up on their website to receive daily devotionals/studies e-mailed to me.
Now, besides accessing all their content through the website, you can conveniently access it through the If: Gathering app. I actually prefer using the app, as it is so well-designed and easy to use.
Each day, a new teaching is posted, along with scriptures, a 2-3 minute video discussion, and a question to think about/respond to. Through the app, you can respond to each day’s teaching by leaving a comment, posting a video or audio clip, sharing a photo, or sharing a link. The goal is to help women connect with other women around the world and to become better equipped to share our faith.
When you download the app, it will ask you to edit your profile. You can just enter your name or you can add more, such as: uploading a photo, entering a short bio about yourself, deciding if you want to have your e-mail address made visible to others who use the app, and if you want to share any personal websites/blogs. Whenever you respond to a post, others can click on your name/profile and learn more about you. The app also gives you the option of entering your zip code, so you can find If:Gathering communities near you.
If you’re looking to grow deeper in your faith and connect with other women, I would encourage you to download the If: Gathering app. You can download it for free at the IOS App Store or Google Play .
I’ve always had a hard time remembering dates. Whether it’s dates of famous historical events or even others’ birthdays, if it’s not written down on my calendar or if I don’t get a reminder/notification, I’m likely to forget it. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just my brain has always been better with words than numbers.
There’s one date, though, that I’ll never forget. On March 23, 2009, my life forever changed with a single phone call. After a 9-year battle with breast cancer, my mom entered into the loving arms of our Heavenly Father. (To read my full story of mother loss, click here.)
While I was thankful my mom was no longer suffering, for the first time in my life I learned what it meant to be truly heartbroken. I literally felt like a piece of me was missing. I wondered how I would live without her. She was not only a wonderful mom, but she was my friend and encourager. Other loved ones had passed away before, but this felt completely different.
Here I was, at the age of 26, and my world was shattered. I had prayed for 9 years that God would heal my mom, and He chose to heal her in heaven rather than on Earth. I knew Romans 8:28 - “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” but I was questioning how God could bring something good out of this.
Fast forward to the present. I can now see how God brought something good out of something so painful. Watching my mom endure so much through her battle with cancer has made me more empathetic. Losing her gave me a desire to help others who have experienced loss and are hurting.
Through loss, I gained a new passion and the purpose for my life became clearer. This revelation, along with incredible healing, came while taking a class through the Motherless Daughters Ministry. It’s a ministry that I am still involved with today as a volunteer. It brings me great joy to be able to support/encourage others on their healing journey. When God places a desire in your heart, trust that He will provide you with opportunities to fulfill that desire.
Seven years later, my world no longer feels shattered, but it still feels different than before my mom passed away, and it will always feel different. It should. When someone’s absence impacts you just as much as their presence, that’s when you know he/she made a difference in your life. My mom made a lasting positive impact on my life, and I’m so thankful for that.
I think about my mom everyday. I miss my mom everyday, and I always will. To grieve deeply means you have loved deeply.
What do I miss most about my mom? It’s all the little things that I used to take for granted. I miss being able to pick up the phone and talk to her. I miss getting cards/letters from her in the mail. I miss sharing teaching stories. I miss running errands with her. I miss seeing her at the dinner table. I miss laughing with her. I miss listening to music and watching TV together. I miss her encouragement. I miss hearing her voice. I miss just being in her presence.
But when I start to miss her, I cling to the memories that remain - memories that remind me how blessed I am to have had her as my mom.
I remember her smile. I remember her strength. I remember her strong faith. I remember that she loved teaching, reading, traveling, knitting, and singing in the church choir. I remember the smell of her favorite perfume and that her favorite color was red. I remember how she would journal every night. I remember how we would laugh while watching the opening monologue on the Tonight Show. I remember how much she loved a clean and organized house. I remember her love of Peanuts comic strips. I remember the peace she had during her final days, because she knew heaven was her eternal home and we would see each other again. I remember she told me, “This is not the end, but it’s only the beginning.” I remember the last words she spoke to me were, “I love you.”
But most importantly, I remember that she always made me feel loved. And that is something I’ll never forget.
Spring is finally here! The calendar tells me today is the first day of spring, but when I stepped outside this morning it was in the 30s. Oh the joy of living in Ohio…where one day you have your heat turned on, and a few days later you might be tempted to turn on your air conditioner. As a teacher, I remember some spring breaks when we had snow. And then as soon as we went back to school we had beautiful weather. In the words of Alanis Morissette - ”Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?”
Since it's officially spring, here are 10 things I love about this season (in random order):
What do you love about spring?
“Looking back, it is evident that God’s love is written across the pages of my life, but it didn’t always seem like that…”
I grew up in a Christian home and had amazing parents who loved God and showed me unconditional love and support. I went to church, Sunday School, and youth group every week. I knew all about God from an early age. I read the Bible. I sang hymns and listened to Christian music. I even memorized scriptures. You would think that my relationship with God was always strong. You would think that it has been easy for me to trust Him. You would be wrong.
The truth is, while it appeared on the outside that I had the “perfect” Christian life, on the inside I was constantly questioning God.
I lived most of my life being weighed down by shame and guilt and pretending that everything was “ok.” I lived most of my life doubting God’s goodness. I lived most of my life overachieving and chasing perfectionism, because it distracted me from dealing with reality. I learned at an early age that betrayal takes seconds, but the effects can last a lifetime.
I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and it was a secret that I kept for most of my life. When a close friend shared her story with me, it gave me the courage to break the silence and share mine for the first time. It was then that I learned the power of our stories - the power of realizing that we’re not alone in our brokenness. Breaking the silence was the first step of my healing journey, and it’s a journey that I am still on.
The abuse caused me to question my faith more than anything else in my life. For so long, I couldn’t understand how a loving God could allow someone to experience abuse. If He truly loved me, why didn’t He protect me? I knew in the Bible it said that God would never leave us or forsake us, but I felt abandoned by Him. Where was He when I needed Him most?
Not only did the abuse make it hard for me to trust God, but I had a hard time trusting others. I also struggled for a season with self-injury. I was using pain to cope with pain, and just like the abuse, I hid it from those around me. I didn’t want to be a burden or cause anyone sadness, so I thought by keeping my struggles to myself I was protecting others. Pain tells us to stay silent. Eventually, God gave me the courage to speak. He helped me bring into the light everything I had been hiding, and that is when the healing began.
Through support groups and counseling, God revealed many things to me. I learned that His heart breaks when we experience pain, but the fact is we live in a fallen world where people have free-will. Where was God when I was being abused? He was in the room with me, and His heart was breaking. He did protect me, but in a different way than I initially thought. He protected my heart. Despite the abuse, He has allowed me to give and receive love. He created me with a desire to help others, and that desire still remains. In fact, it’s stronger than ever now. God gave me resilience, strength, and hope.
Life definitely still has its challenges. The abuse I experienced as a child forever changed me, but so has God’s love. Through all my years of questioning, anger, and doubt, God remained. He didn’t just stay. He pursued me. He placed others along my path to reveal truth and love when I needed it most. I lost my innocence, but I found that the one thing I could never lose is God’s love.
The pages of my story which initially caused me to question God the most are now the exact pages He wants me to share. Why? Because God doesn’t want us to deal with pain alone. He has placed specific people in our lives for a reason. When we honestly share our stories, we begin to see all the connections, and we can better support and encourage one another.
I initially shared my secret because someone else had the courage to share theirs. Chances are, someone in your close circle of friends or family has experienced some type of abuse. Maybe you have. Maybe you’re struggling with something else. Pain will tell you to stay silent. Hope and healing are possible. Break the silence. Share your story. It may help someone else.
Light and darkness - two extremes. Light creates heat, darkness brings cooler temperatures. Light creates a feeling of safety, darkness can bring on anxiety. Light enables community and relationships (we can see others around us), darkness encourages isolation. Light exposes the truth, darkness hides the truth.
When things are going well in our lives, we want to share our happiness with others. Being in community is something we desire. The fun, laughter, and joy we experience in the presence of others reminds us that life is better when we experience it together.
Then, struggles come. Loss happens. An unexpected diagnosis. Financial difficulties. Others betray us. We experience deep hurt. Life suddenly is very different than how we imagined it to be. If you’re anything like me, my natural tendency is to pull away from others at this point or to hide the painful things I’m experiencing. So often I want to protect others from experiencing sadness, or I don’t want to be a burden, so I have tried to navigate the struggles on my own.
One day, as I was reading the Bible, this truth was clearly revealed to me: Besides the Father (God) and the Holy Spirit, Jesus had 12 disciples by His side. If even Jesus didn’t walk through life alone, why do I think I can? If Jesus loved others and invested time in them even though He knew they would betray Him, shouldn’t I also do the same?
It was at that point that I realized that maybe instead of keeping my struggles in the dark that I should bring them into the light. Maybe instead of hiding the most painful parts of my story, I should reveal them….and allow others the opportunity to support me. When you’re so used to being comfortable in the dark, stepping forward into the light can be scary. So, I started praying that God would bring “safe” people into my life. People who had proven themselves trustworthy. People who I could share my joys and trials with without feeling judged. I also prayed that God would give me boldness to share my story when He prompted me to. God is faithful. He answered those prayers. Here’s what I learned along the way:
1. If you don’t feel like you have a safe person, pray that God will bring you someone who can be trusted. Consider also seeing a counselor. This has been helpful for me.
2. True courage is not facing adversity on your own, but allowing others to walk alongside you. There’s no shame in reaching out for help. Leaning on God and others isn’t a sign of weakness, but it allows those around us to show us love when we need it most. Their support makes us stronger.
3. That first step into the light (revealing a struggle) is one of the hardest steps you’ll take. Fear will try to hold you back. Move forward anyways.
4. Once you step into the light, you are allowing others to see the real you. They will be able to see things you are comfortable sharing, but they will also be able to see those things which you have kept hidden for so long in the dark. This part can be terrifying, but it can also bring freedom, especially when our confessions are met with love, caring, and acceptance. Hope is ignited when we realize that others will be there to help us through the struggles.
5. Walking in the light encourages others to walk in the light. Honesty inspires others to be honest. You begin to see that everyone has something they’ve been trying to hide and are struggling with - you aren’t the only one.
6. Once you have experienced the freedom and healing that comes from bringing your struggles into the light, be that safe person for someone else. Remember it’s an honor to hear someone’s story. Listen with the intent to love, not to judge. Help break the cycle of isolation when community is needed most.
What have you been hiding in the dark? Is there something you feel holding you back from living the abundant life that God desires for you (John 10:10)? If so, I would encourage you to find a safe person and share what you’ve been hiding. Bring it into the light. For me, that is when the healing started, and it continues today. It hasn’t been easy, but the love and support I have received along the way has encouraged me to continue moving forward.
Whatever you are going through, know you are not alone. It’s ok to need other people. Moving from darkness to light begins with a single step, but can result in experiencing peace, freedom, healing, and the joy of living in honest community. It’s an amazing feeling to be truly known and yet still fully loved. Is that something you desire? If so, maybe it’s time to take that first step….
I'm an ordinary introvert who loves an extraordinary God.