A Letter to my Freshman Self

I’ve written a letter to my 13 year old self before, but this one is more of me reflecting back over high school since I just graduated this weekend — that’s also why I missed posting last week, but I’m back now!:)

Dear Freshman Taryn,

I know starting at a new private school sounds terrifying, but don’t worry or panic. I promise you’re going to love it! You’re going to meet your best friend, you’re going to have teachers that push you and teach you in ways you can’t even imagine, and you’re going to be changed more than you can imagine by these next four years of high school. 

You’re going to meet a lot of people right at first that you’ll want to impress. People that are popular and would be cool to be friends with. But you don’t have to be cool or pretty or have designer clothes to have real friends. Don’t be afraid to go sit with or talk to anyone you want to, but stick with the people that want to be around you even on the bad hair days. 

Do your homework, and please don’t put off all ten calculus lessons until the night before they’re due. But don’t put crazy pressure on yourself to be perfect. Other things in life are important too. Sure, getting straight As is amazing. But so are spending time with friends, playing in the praise band, working a job, and reading. Realize that striking a balance is important so that you don’t crash. It’s more important to do really well at all the things you choose to do than to focus all your energy on being perfect at one. 

Don’t take your opportunities for granted. On your graduation day, you’re going to wish you had spent more time getting to know your amazing classmates. You’re going to wish you could go back and do some things differently. But you won’t be able to. So right now, enjoy life and don’t take yourself too seriously. These four years will be hard, but they will be so amazing. Go get ’em, Taryn. You’re gonna do great things in this world. 

Sincerely,

My newly graduated self

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Why Do I Do What I Do?

Even farther back than I can remember, I’ve gone to church, prayed, read my Bible, been a nice kid… I’ve done all of the typical “Christian” things to do. As a five-year-old I never second guessed it. I did those things out of routine because that is what my family did, and quite frankly, church was where I played with my friends, so I had no objections.

That can only last so long though. At some point, I stopped doing things just because my parents did them, and because they were things I chose to do. But why did I choose to do them? Why am I choosing to do them now?

I am at church almost every time the doors are open, I read my Bible… but why? I’m not asking you, I’m asking myself. I’ve been asking myself this for weeks and months, and still don’t know if I have a definite answer. I wish that I could say confidently that I do those things because I love Jesus. And some days I think that is the case. But other days I wonder if I’m just doing them because I want other people to think I love Jesus

Wow. That’s so sad. I know for sure that there have been times in my life when carrying a clean Christian image was more important to me than passionately pursuing my Savior, and I don’t want that to ever be the case again.

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” — Matthew 6:1

When the motive behind my so-called “righteousness” is to be seen by people, I am living with an attitude of pride rather than an attitude of humility. My heart isn’t pure and centered on Jesus, instead it is focused on glorifying myself.

“Humble yourselves before the LORD, and He will lift you up.” — James 4:10

Being lifted up from a Biblical perspective doesn’t look like bragging on yourself or doing “Christian” things to be seen by people. It doesn’t look like arrogantly thinking you are better than other people because of your list of credentials and good works. Paul talks in Philippians 3 about how those things are worthless, and considered “filth” compared to truly living as a follower of Christ.

I am more than guilty of doing all of those things. Of considering myself better than those around me. Of practicing my righteousness to be seen by people. Of trying to lift myself up. But as James writes, I have to humble myself before the LORD, place myself in submission to Him, and in turn He will lift me up. Not for my own glory, but for His glory.

Jesus is the perfect example of humility. Of seeking the Father’s will and glory rather than His own. At the Last Supper, knowing the intensity of the night He was about to face, Jesus chose to serve His disciples selflessly by washing their feet. He could have easily rationalized that He was about to go to the cross for them and that He did not have to wash their feet on top of all of that. No one could have faulted Him for wanting to conserve His energy knowing He was going to be carrying a wooden cross down the streets of Jerusalem only hours later. Instead of letting those selfish thoughts control Him however, Jesus got down on His knees and scrubbed the grime off the feet of His disciples. Jesus epitomized humility, and He is the one who deserves glory more than anyone else ever could. If Jesus acted with humility, for the glory of the Father, shouldn’t I do so as well?

Why do I do the things that I do? Why do I read my Bible and pray? Is it because it’s what I’m supposed to do? Or is it because I want people to think I’m a good Christian? Maybe so, but I don’t want that to be the case anymore. I want to fall desperately in love with my Savior and live so dependent on Him that I rely on Him and run to Him in everything. I want my focus to be humbly submitting to Him, and letting Him receive the glory for anything good that comes out of my life. I want to live my life for Jesus.

The Importance of Community

Yesterday was my church’s Senior Sunday. As I stood at the front of the sanctuary, fighting back tears next to some amazing Jesus-loving goofballs, I started truly reflecting on what the church has meant to me over the past 18 years of my life.

I remember going on hayrides and singing Veggie Tales songs at the top of our lungs with these people when I was 9. I remember building a church on a mission trip with these people when I was 15, I remember singing with one voice to our Savior with these people, I remember losing a dodgeball tournament at camp with these people when I was 12, and I remember sitting in a circle with all my other senior girls last summer and crying for three hours because of how awesome Jesus is and how much He has worked in us as a group over the years.

There have been divisions. There has been drama. There were weeks, months, and even years where we let petty things come between us and neglected to function as the Biblical community that God has called us to be. But when we did live out that community, we were not only fulfilling God’s call, but we realized our lives were being fulfilled.

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” — 1 Corinthians 12:27

Being the body of Christ is not a burden, it allows us to live more effectively and abundantly by having all of the other parts of the body working with us. In essence, the rest of 1 Corinthians 12 explains that a hand or a foot or an eye off by itself is not worth much of anything, but when attached to a functioning body, it has a great purpose and value!

I remember my youth minister speaking on a Wednesday night during the spring of my freshman year. I remember him challenging all of us to resolve any enmities or dissensions between ourself and anyone else in the group. I remember making a list of 7 people that I needed to go apologize to or talk with about something that had come between us. The next 2 weeks were some of the most awkward and emotionally draining weeks of my life as I made my way down that list, but they were also some of the most freeing. So many broken relationships were restored, and two of those seven are now some of my very closest friends. For the first time I fully grasped the way church is supposed to be, the community we are supposed to share, and how amazing it feels to experience that without any tension or strife interfering.

Since then, I have made it a point not to allow jealousy, anger, or gossip permeate my relationships that way ever again. Sometimes that means confrontation in love, sometimes that means awkward conversations, but community free of hindrances is so worth it. Community that allows us to reach the full potential that Christ has for us. We can’t do it alone — we need people to pray for us, work alongside us, encourage us… And they need us! Whether that is a formal gathering in a church building, a group of Christians at school, or even you and a friend praying and reading the Bible together — start somewhere with living out your Christian walk not only as an individual, but as a part of community. It’s so worth it.

 

I Love to Tell the Story

“The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.” — 1 Corinthians 1:18

The gospel — or good news — is the story of Jesus. The power of God to those who believe. In the words of one of my favorite childhood hymns…

I love to tell the story of unseen things above,

Of Jesus and His glory

Of Jesus and His love.

I love to tell the story, for some have never heard

The message of salvation from God’s own Holy Word.

I can’t help but have a smile on my face when I sing these words, but are they true of me? Do I really love to tell the story of my Savior? Or far too often am I ashamed of it, or neglect to really tell it? Do I really spread “the message of salvation from God’s own Holy Word”?

I believe that many Christians, myself included, have fallen into the trap of centering the “gospel” around ourselves, not Jesus. Of telling our story, not His. 

It’s easier, more comfortable, most of the time to talk about our own lives than to boldly proclaim His story. But which one has the power to save?

I could tell people about my life all day long. But no matter how great my life is, or how much God has been working in my life, that story will never save them. Only the power of God will save them. Only the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Only the story of His taking our place on the cross. Only the story of God making a way for us to be in a right relationship with Him again. 

That story is powerful. That story gives me chills. So why am I afraid to tell it?

I don’t know. 

I make some pretty lame excuses every day of my life. I worry that people won’t listen or will think I am strange. It’s easier to convince myself that I’m doing all I need to do by talking about myself and bringing up Jesus name once in a while. 

But that can’t cut it anymore. 

I want to tell Jesus’ story. The story that saved me and transformed my life. The message that government officials claimed had “upset the world” (Acts 17:6) when the disciples shared it in the first century. The story that has lasted thousands of years and never stopped being faithful. 

What is the story of Jesus? 

He loved us so much, even though we rejected Him, that He wanted to make a way for our sins to be forgotten, for us to live in a perfect relationship with Him again. But since we are far from perfect, and our sin requires death to atone for it, He took that death for us. God’s own Son in the human form of Jesus came down to this earth, lived here as a man and never sinned. He was despised by His own people and they ultimately put Him to death in a gruesome and horrible way. He gave Himself over to them and died completely innocent. But He didn’t stay dead long. Three days later, He rose victoriously from the dead. Proving that He has ultimate power over death. And with that power, He chooses to rescue us from the inevitable death we all deserve. We only have to ask Him to do so. To believe that He alone has the power to save us. To save us from death. To save us from a life marred by sin. To save us from separation from our loving Father. 

As Paul told his jailer who asked how to be saved,

“Believe in the LORD Jesus and you will be saved.” — Acts 16:31

And as he writes in a letter to the Romans…

“Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” — Romans 10:13

That’s good news!! That’s powerful. That’s the gospel. And that’s the story I want to tell from now on. The story that has the power to change hearts and lives. I want to fall in love with telling that story,  Jesus’ story. 

This world needs Jesus more than I need anything

My heart is broken. I’m an emotional person, and I’m an empathetic person. Put those things together, and my heart breaks easily. It can be caused by the silliest things, but I’ve stopped seeing it as a bad thing. 
Last night, I was enjoying my day off by reading a book that is set during World War II. My heart breaks for all those families who were ripped apart. Young boys who had to grow up way too fast and parents who watched them march to their deaths. Jews who were mercilessly slaughtered. And the fact that I can’t do anything about it. 

This world is brutal. I may be able to hide in the oblivious bubble of first world existence, but there is pain and injustice permeating the world we all live in. Sin and its effects are running rampant, and evil is darkening the world much faster than we care to admit. 

But it isn’t going to win. 

“No! In all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us!” — Romans 8:37

Death, sin, pain, sorrow, cruelty… Jesus is going to come back and abolish them. He is going to crush them under His feet. I know that, and you know that, but there’s a world of people out there who don’t know, who have never heard. A world of people that need hope. 

Look at the verb I chose in that sentence. 

Need. 

I tell myself I need a lot of things. New shoes, three meals a day, comfort… 

I like my life. I like the little luxuries. But you know what? Heaven one day is going to be truly luxurious. And I want the people on this earth to be there experiencing it with me. 

This world needs Jesus way more than I need anything. 

Those people dying without hope? There is no reason for that. They truly need the hope of Jesus and His saving grace. God put me here for a reason, I don’t know all the specifics of it, but I know it includes making Him known to the world. I don’t know where or how, but I know I want to be ready to answer that call, whatever it looks like. 

It doesn’t just look like one of these days. It looks like every day, right now. For now, God has me here in Texas. I know that. And I’m not going to take that as an excuse to sit around just because I’m not in a war-torn impoverished nation. The world that needs Jesus is right here too. 

I’ve prayed before that God would break my heart for what breaks His. And I realized last night that He has been faithful to answer that prayer. My heart is shattered for the lost and hurting in this world. I don’t want to try to shrug this feeling off and go back to living a life of comfort. I want to live consciously aware of the people around me that need Jesus. I want to live for Him, regardless of the cost. I want everyone on this earth to experience the hope that I have. So I had better go tell them. 

His Mercies are new Every Morning

I’m definitely a morning person. I can get up at 5:30 am and be productive (like this morning!), but once about 9 pm hits, I lose any ability to function. Most days, I look forward to going to sleep at night and waking up the next morning to a fresh day — a new start. But some nights, I don’t want to go to sleep, I don’t want to have to wake up and face the daunting day that looms before me.

On those days, I have often fallen into the trap of losing hope — of forgetting that God is sovereign and so, so faithful. I forget the verse that I clung to for all of last year, the verse that gave me a reason to keep persevering when that was the last thing I wanted to do.

“Because of the LORD’s faithful love, we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness.” — Lamentations 3:22-23

They are new every morning! That is a reason to rejoice! Every single morning when I wake up, God has new mercy and new strength in store for that day. I don’t have to be strong enough, because He already is! And I don’t have to have the strength to get through tomorrow yet, that is in the future and God will provide what I need when I get there. When I wake up tomorrow, His mercies will be new all over again and then I’ll be able to take on the future, but not yet.

Not only does this bring hope and peace, it gives yet another reason not to worry.

“Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength — carrying two days at once! It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worry  doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” — Corrie ten Boom

Let me tell you what, I don’t have any abundance of strength to be wasting. I don’t want to waste the strength that God has blessed me with today by worrying about tomorrow. Especially since He says He will take care of it for me.

What is going to happen tomorrow, next week, in the future… we have no control over! Worrying isn’t going to change any of it, but what we can trust is that God will give us the strength for it as we come to it. That He isn’t ever going to leave us out on our own. That no matter how bleak and helpless things look, His power is going to claim the victory. That brings me back to the verse that sparked this whole blogging journey…

“But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.” — 2 Corinthians 12:9

That’s more than good enough for me. I don’t have to worry, I get to live without worry knowing that He is abundantly strong and that He is going to take care of me. I get to rely on His new mercies every day, and drown every single day in His sufficient grace. Grace that’s bigger than failures, bigger than weakness and fatigue, and bigger than my extreme senioritis;) Grace in knowing that no matter what happens today, God is still going to be here being faithful tomorrow and it’ll be a new day with new joy in Him to look forward to.

“Weeping may last for a night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.” — Psalm 30:5

Prayer Changes Things

Today is the National Day of Prayer and so I wanted to write an extra post today about what God has been teaching me over the past three years about what prayer really is and the impact it can have on our lives—–

 

I walked into the break room behind my coworker that had just gotten off of his last shift before moving away to college. I closed the door behind me and mumbled nervously,

 
“I want to pray for you before you leave”

 
I think I completely astonished him. Even though he has grown up in church, people just don’t do that. He consented, and we stood there awkwardly looking at the floor while I prayed in a shaky voice for his future, for God’s will to prevail in his life, and for all the people he would be able to be a light to on his university campus. I finished and he left, and I haven’t really talked to him since then.

 
That’s a silly story, but it was the beginning of an incredible journey for me. The beginning of God showing me the power of prayer, and that He really does know what He is doing.
I knew that day, I’d known for that whole week, that I was supposed to pray over my friend. To this day, I don’t know why, but I am so glad that I did. That was the catalyst that made my prayer life something beyond whispers in my bed at night.

 
That is one of many poignant experiences with prayer I’ve had in my life. I can point back to five off the top of my head that have taught me how powerful prayer really is, how it draws people together, and how it shapes and molds our hearts to be sensitive to God’s plan for our life.

 
Prayer changes my heart. Jesus understands me when no one else can, and He is more than faithful to work in my heart when I ask Him. Sometimes, I’m limited to a few broken words,

 
“Jesus, I don‘t know how to pray. Help me.” 

 
And He always, always answers. He give me the words to say, and I can point back to so many times He’s asked me to pray for faith, and I can see the resulting events. This bridge of Hillsong’s “Oceans” has been my prayer so many times…

 

 

Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders. Let me walk upon the waters wherever You would call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander so my faith would be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.

 

I can see how God allowed me to walk through deserts and desolate places. Through valleys and up mountains that I never thought I could be strong enough to climb. I wouldn’t have chosen them, and I didn’t have the strength for them. But the same God who brought me to them, gave me faith to make it through them. He carried me up the mountains and through the storms, and strengthens me to come out on the other side more like Him, more of the person He wants me to be.
Prayer has profoundly impacted my life, and I know that God uses prayer not only individually but corporately.

 

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” –Matthew 18:20

 

I don’t want to be afraid of praying over people. I remember one special day two years ago when my youth group surrounded a young woman fighting cancer, we all had tears streaming down our faces, as we prayed aloud simultaneously to the Creator of the Universe to bring healing to this woman’s life. I remember feeling awkward initially. I remember being self conscious of the people around me hearing my prayers. But I also remember God’s presence in that moment. I remember His Spirit moving and the bond He created between the people there in that moment.

 

Prayer is powerful! Prayer is the power of God. Why should I ever be self conscious of asking God to intervene? Of allowing God to do a miracle through my humble words?

 

“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.” — James 5:17-18

 

If prayer has this kind of power, why aren’t we crying out? Why aren’t we praying over everyone we know that’s hurting? Not just a sentence prayer whispered in the confines of our own room, but laying hands on our brothers and sisters in Christ and crying out for God’s power. Making prayer a normal, consistent part of life while still rendering God the awe and respect He’s due.

 

I don’t want prayer to be something I do to check off a list anymore. I want to marvel at the power of prayer and the glory of God it reveals. I want to pray without ceasing, and I want to pray fearlessly. Whether that’s praying for things that sound too big and too crazy, or praying out loud over someone who thinks I’m strange, I’m ready to invite God’s power into my life through prayer. Will you join me?

To Be a Light to the World… you have to be in the World

“You are the light of the world, a city situated on a hill can not be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lamp stand and it give light to all who are in the house. In the same way let you light shine before men so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in Heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16

I live in a Christian bubble. I’ve grown up in church, attending a Christian school, and sheltered from a lot of things. I don’t view that as a bad thing. It’s been a blessing to be raised in an environment that nourished and nurtured my faith. 

But now I’m 18. I’m an adult. I’m about to step out into the real world. And I don’t want to be afraid of it. 

God calls us to be in the world and not of it. But I feel like we focus on the second part of that command a lot more than the first part. God calls us to be in the world!

If I’m going to be a light to the world, I have to be in the world to shine my light. My youth pastor likes to talk about how we build disciples to send them out. We can’t just build disciples forever and never send them to do anything. 

To be honest, that’s scary to me! My safe little Christian world looks great to me. And I really do have more gifts and abilities towards discipleship than evangelism. But just because I’m great at one doesn’t annul my responsibility to the other. 

God called me to go make disciples. Look carefully at the wording of some of Jesus last words on earth, 

“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” — Mark 16:15

To proclaim the gospel, we first have to go into all the world. 

Here’s where it gets touchy. 

In our world today, controversy is swirling, boycotts are surrounding us, and Christians are taking stands against all kinds of things. We stay away from the “secular” (which we synonymize with evil) world and the “sinners” that are different from us. I’m as guilty of this as the next person, but God has been laying something different on my heart recently. 

How are Christians supposed to minister and spread the gospel in a world we are staying away from? How are we supposed to be a light to people we avoid? It doesn’t work!

To follow God’s call to be a light, we have to go into dark places. We have to step outside of our safety bubble into the unknown. We have to forego safety and comfort, but it’s more than worth it, and honestly, we don’t have a choice. We, the church, God’s people, are commanded to carry His Name and Good News to the world. Every tribe, every nation. Not select people, not people that haven’t committed a certain sin or only people who have a fairly “respectable” background. 

Sin is in the world. And it’s wrong. I’m not denying that. I’m not suggesting that we overlook sin and darkness, that we condone the evil in the world. What I am suggesting is that we bring light to those places. That we love like Jesus loved. Disciples and tax collectors, Jews and Greeks, children and adults, rich and poor.

We are a part of this dark world as much as anyone. We are just as much sinners, just as dirty, just as in need of our Savior’s cleansing blood. But once He has washed us and filled us with His light, it’s our duty to go spread that light. Not because we’re better than the world, but because we want them to have the hope and salvation we do. We should want that for everyone. And we should be willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen.