stop being comfortable

Once I graduated from high school, I stepped outside of that Christian bubble that I had been sheltered by all of my life. I started meeting people at Uni and work who didn’t know God and I was often the only one who did.  It took me a while to understand that this difference facilitated a space for powerful opportunities to take place.

I have realised over the last few years that knowing Jesus and having a relationship with Him is important, but keeping it to yourself has very little impact. I have decided that this year, this is something that I want to change. I am a firm believer that neither your presence nor your absence within the church defines your relationship with God. Rather than solely focus on building and maintaining my current relationships, I want to actively and intentionally seek opportunities to create relationships with people that may not know God yet, so they too can find Jesus.

Personally, I find it easier to talk to strangers about my faith than to my close family or friends who do not share my beliefs. We tend to not only receive more judgement from those who we surround ourselves with on a regular basis, but we also value their opinions so much more. We have always been taught that ‘sharing is caring’, but how come we are so hesitant when it comes to sharing our faith?

I want to challenge myself this year to stop being satisfied with my current position; stop being comfortable. I want to challenge myself to reach beyond my comfort zone. It takes courage and a whole lot of faith, but if I can conquer that fear, then I am sure that amazing things can and will happen.

Keep smiling. x

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5 things I wish I knew before leaving school

I witnessed my sister heading off to her Year 12 Formal the other day and I felt so incredibly proud. The beginning of the end to a long thirteen years of schooling and turning the page to a new chapter post-HSC exams. I came home from work the night of Aimee’s last exam and she was glowing. The freedom she had only been waiting forward to was now a reality. I hugged her, welcoming her to this new and exciting journey. I explained to her that while she may feel like a huge burden had been lifted off her shoulders, it is not all cruisy from here. Life throws lots of curveballs and you need to be prepared to face them head on, instead of let them overpower you. 

Later that night, I laid in bed thinking how that was me two years ago and how much has changed in that short period of time. I reminisced about the challenges that I faced as I completed my exams and my personal experiences of that taste of ‘freedom’ that followed. I quickly wrote down a few things that I wish I had known when I waved school goodbye, with the intention of sharing these pieces of advice with my sister.

1. Be open minded. 
You’ll meet new people with different values and morals to you. Don’t let that dishearten you, but rather listen to their perspectives, explore new avenues and deepen your own understanding. Don’t be stubborn and close-minded. Always be willing to learn and grow. Knowledge is power. Stand up for what you believe in, but don’t shut down others for their beliefs. 

2. Embrace challenges. Acknowledge that things won’t be easy, but when difficulties arise, take those moments to pause and evaluate the situation from multiple directions. Sometimes we limit ourselves to the things we want to see and are oblivious to the things we should or need to be focusing on. Your attitude and perspective changes everything, so adjust them accordingly.

3. Find your passion and run with that. Do something that you love, but also try new things – you may love something that you don’t even know yet! The first step is finding something that you love, but the most important thing is believing in that. Never be scared to step outside your comfort zone. Often, you will find that you will make new experiences, meet new people and have the opportunity to reveal your hidden talents when you take a risk and try something different. 


4. Make time for your friends. It is different after school, because you have to put time and effort into maintaining your friendships. You grow up with these people and you learn from each other. These relationships are important and you will find that once you go your separate ways, it is much more difficult to hold on to those special bonds you have created. All relationships work better when equal amounts of effort is put in by everyone involved.


5. Remember that you are Loved. You will quickly realise that this world is messed up. There are so many things going on, not only on a global scale, but even within our local surroundings. It is okay to feel overwhelmed by all of these things, but also remember to have faith that there is something much bigger and greater than all of these materialistic and temporary things. In a world full of chaos, let this reminder bring you peace. 

Growing up is an exciting, but scary and fun, yet challenging experience. I have realised in the last two years, that I have already grown and matured so much. But more importantly, I have realised that this growing and maturing never stops.

Keep smiling. x

blink and it’s over.

You just have to turn on the news to realise how messed up and corrupted this world has become. This can’t be it. Why would we live to work, work to make money, make money to pay bills, pay bills to live comfortably and survive, then one day we never take another breath? There HAS to be something, someone, greater than all of this ‘temporary’ stuff.

I have always respected people who are open-minded and are willing to listen and be challenged – in general, but particularly in regards to religion. For me, my faith is my rock. The stability and strength that I find in believing in something greater than I could ever imagine provides solace when I am drowning in the waves that life is throwing.

“I would rather live my life as if there was a god and die to find out there isn’t, than live my life as if there isn’t and die to find out there is” – Albert Camus.

After a lot of back-and-forth contemplating and excuse-making, my boyfriend and I decided to meet at our local park and attempt to do some exercise. For me, ‘exercise’ isn’t even in my vocabulary, so needless to say, getting my lazy butt off the couch this afternoon to walk further than just to the fridge or my bed, proved difficult. Despite the heavy breathing that I experienced while developing a stitch after my first lap of the oval (I know what you’re thinking, tragic), one thing happened as we walked back to our cars an hour later that made those (poor-excuses for) push-ups completely worth it. I turned around and the sky was painted with strokes of bright colours. Sunsets are 100% my weakness and God wasn’t playing any games tonight!

Of course, I had to take a photo. By ‘a photo’, I mean multiple. And in typical Jess fashion, I drove home thinking that perhaps life is like one huge sunset; breathtakingly beautiful, but blink and it’s over. We are blessed in countless ways and the most obvious blessing is life itself. I think we too often take that special gift for granted. Make sure your sunset is worth watching.

Keep smiling. x

happiness.

Warning: personal post! Yes, it’s about relationships and you are probably wondering why I am writing and posting something so personal to me. The reason? I want to be real. And I know that with being real, comes vulnerability and honestly, I am scared – so please be nice. I have wanted to post this for a while, but I have never known if it is right or if it will actually help someone. I want to show anyone that may be reading this that relationships – whether it be with a friend, a significant other or a family member – ALL come with road bumps. I want to encourage you to take a step back and re-evaluate the situation in its entirety, not just from your perspective. So here goes…

It has taken me almost six years to realise that my happiness should not be hindered by the words or actions of other people. It also should not be wholly dependent on someone else, regardless of how close they are to you. It’s not worth it, trust me. I did just that for almost four years. My first relationship began when I was fifteen and lasted three and half years with a four-month break somewhere in the second half. To say it was easy would be a lie. We may have dated a long time, but it was the fact that I had made him the biggest part of my life that was the problem. He was number one and over everything else in my life, he came first. As sweet and lovely as that sounds, it’s not. Putting other people on a pedestal is dangerous and opens up a lot of space to get hurt. 

It has been almost a year since that relationship ended and holy heck, those following months were the hardest, most painful months I have experienced so far. In hindsight though, I have learnt a lot. I have learnt that a relationship works two ways and you both need to be putting in equal effort. I have learnt that being completely open, honest and real with one another is crucial to communicating how you are feeling. I have learnt that other people don’t define your worth and that there are people out there who love reminding you that you are beautiful, special and valued. I have realised that for all that time, I had been putting the wrong thing first. God needed to be first in my life and I had my priorities out of line for way too long. It is so incredibly important to not put worldly things on a pedestal. Love them, love it, love whatever the thing is that is so special to you – but never, ever put it before God.

I guess as cliche as it sounds, you not only learn how to become stronger through heartache, but you also learn that life goes on – and that is exactly what happened. Life went on and I have moved on with a whole new perspective toward all forms of relationships regardless of who they are with. 

Right now, as I sit here finishing off this post, I can confidently say that it has not been easy getting to this point, but I am so incredibly grateful and genuinely happy. So take it from me: your happiness is just that – yours. Avoid letting other people completely influence how you are feeling. If you are upset, be upset. If you are feeling on top of the world, then share that positive energy with those around you. But no matter what, you should never have to justify the way you are feeling to anyone (been there, done that and *yawn* waste of time). Just do you!


Keep smiling. x

presence.

It has taken me a while to acknowledge the fact that it is actually Christmas again. Like what just happened? Did I not wake up from my food coma of Christmas 2014 and just skip all of this year or something? Please tell me I’m not the only one. 
Even with all of the Christmas carols, the candy canes, the tinsel, the corny Bon Bon jokes (which I really appreciate, mind you), the fake snow, the lights and the omnipresent Santa Clause that can magically be at every single shopping centre AT THE SAME TIME – childhood ruined; even with all of these things surrounding me, I just couldn’t convince myself that it was Christmas.
But this morning, in the spirit of Christmas Eve, my sister and I decided to sit down and finally watch The Grinch Who Stole Christmas for the first time (cue eye rolling, gasping and an exaggerated chorus of ‘whaaaat!’), yesssss I know, first time, pathetic right? Needless to say, it was so worth the wait. And also, sidenote: how did parents show their children that movie? That big, hairy, green thing is pretty scary. However, amid all the wonderful puns, the hilarious innuendos and the cringe-worthy noses on those Who’s in Whoville, the underlying meaning is so, so much more.
Working at a supermarket, it is so clear how commercialised Christmas has become. It is all about those things I listed above – the commodities and the superficial things – you know, the things that don’t last; those things you like this year, but are “sooo 2015” when you are writing your new list the following year.
Presents are great, don’t get me wrong. It’s fun giving and receiving gifts, but we need to recognise and acknowledge the reason behind why we are celebrating. This world is a broken place; it’s not difficult to see that, because unfortunately it is everywhere we turn. Yet if we turn to Jesus, he sees through all of that. He came into our broken world in an attempt to create a beautiful mosaic of all our shattered pieces. That’s the best gift of all.
So this Christmas, I encourage you to remember the reason why we celebrate and for me, the Grinch has reminded me that rather than focusing on the presents under the tree this year, I am going to focus on being present in the lives of those I love instead. Spending this time with family is something so special and we often take it for granted. It is through connecting with the people closest to us that we have the potential to share the love of God with others. Trust me, you’ll find a lot more joy in relationships than you will in any materialistic thing. Presents. Presence. You choose.
Keep smiling. x

win/win

“Granddad, who is God? Where is He?”
“God sits in a house, a massive house, far beyond our imagination. This house has an infinite number of windows…infinite means that when you think they are finished, there’s always another one and then another one again. Each person on Earth looks through a different window, seeing God in a slightly different way from a slightly different angle, but they all look at God.”

I am scared of three things: spiders, heights and the ocean. But my biggest fear is making it to Heaven and finding out that the people I love haven’t made it. I think the thing that scares me the most about that is the fact that I could have changed that; that I had the potential to change their mind, to influence them and to show them how much God loves them.

One of the most attractive and admirable qualities of a person, I believe, is being open-minded. Religion can be a difficult topic. Everyone has an opinion and it is how others react to these opinions that possess many positive and negative connotations. This year I started my first year of Uni and working part-time. These new environments have allowed me to surround myself with new experiences in which I have been given opportunities to have conversations with work colleagues or other Uni students about religion. When people ask you questions about what you believe it’s terrifying, but it is also exciting at the same time. It’s terrifying because you feel a sense of vulnerability – your defenses are down and you are sharing a part of you with someone else and naturally, that can create space for potential prejudice. However, sharing your ideas, thoughts, opinions and beliefs with other people can be exciting because you have the opportunity to challenge others to be open-minded and not take their opinions as the be-all and end-all.

For me, believing in God is an obvious choice. When you think about it, realistically it’s a win/win decision. In the end, if it all pans out and God and Heaven is for real, then we get eternal life! And if it turns out that it wasn’t all what is was talked up to be, then what do we lose? Nothing. I don’t know about you, but I know what I’m choosing.

Keep smiling. x

What does your faith look like?

Earlier this year I was at Hillsong for an annual women’s conference called Colour. Simply put: three days of an intense spiritual high in a room full of oestregen. One of my favourite things about Hillsong would have to be their passion when it comes to worship through music. There are literally thousands of women packed in the one room, all singing to the same God. It is the most incredible feeling being surrounded by so many others who share the same belief as you. But that isn’t what made me tear up while singing.
As the musicians were up on stage, beautiful music and voices filled the auditorium with women standing everywhere with their eyes shut and hands raised – completely and utterly engrossed in the moment and in love with their God. I glanced around, smiling and taking it all in. This is what Heaven will be like – the epitome of love, passion and happiness. Kind of like a jar full of skittles with all the green ones removed, but better. So. Much. Better.
As I continued to look around the room, my eyes were drawn to the women in the front row of the seated area next to the sound desk. It was reserved especially for those with a disability, namely the deaf women. There was a lady signing all the lyrics to the women so they could understand and sing along. My eyes immediately filled with tears as I watched them so passionate and enthusiastic about worshipping. It completely blew me away. I could hear the drums, the guitar, the keyboard, the synthesiser, the singers, the voices of the thousands of women – everything. But they could hear nothing. It made me wonder whether their disability was their catalyst for such passionate faith. So often we get distracted by all this artificial, ‘white noise’ constantly surrounding us that we lose focus of what it really means to love God or worse, we lose focus of God, period. A part of me felt terrible for enjoying the beautiful chorus of sounds I could hear so easily, sounds that they would never have the chance of experiencing. But then another part of me was filled with this overwhelming sense of joy, compassion and awe. They were proud of their faith and their faith was incredible. I want my faith to be like theirs – complete, unhidden and made manifest among others.  
I was on the train this afternoon making my way home from Uni and after three hours of back-to-back classes all finishing before midday the first thing I was looking forward to was sitting down on the train with some food and my headphones in – Uni students, ya feel me? It is a common pet-hate of all commuters – train, bus, plane, ferry, yacht, you name it – when you finally take a seat and get comfortable and all of a sudden what seems to be the only audible thing is a baby crying or a kid testing out the highest decibel he can reach without his core body temperature resulting in a physical combustion (not sure if that’s an actual thing). Well the latter, yeah that happened to me today. Usually in this situation I would preferably want said kid to wipe me out in his path of obliteration, but today was different (well, at least almost). I took my seat on the train and after about five minutes I heard this young boy, probably five years old, make his way down the stairs to my carriage and sit by the window providing commentary on everything that was happening outside to his Mum who was upstairs sitting down holding on to a stroller. 
“MUM LOOK THERE IS A FOOTPATH. DID YOU SEE THE BIG YELLOW, BLACK AND BLUE SIGN? MUMMMM, IS THAT OUR STATION? OH, IT’S NOT OUR STATION MUM, WE DIDN’T SLOW DOWN AT THAT ONE. WHEN IS OUR STATION?” This went on for a solid ten minutes, with thirty-second intervals if he was feeling generous. I turned up my music louder and tried to zone out before I seriously started considering testing out the train’s emergency stop system. A few more minutes passed when the little boy piped up again, but this time with something I could not help but smile at: 

“HEY MUM?”
“Yes bub?”
“I LOVE YOU!”
“I love you too darling.”
“NO, MUM, LIKE I REALLY REEEEEAAAALLLLY LOVE YOU.”
“I really really love you too.”

I looked around the carriage and every single person who had heard it had a small smile appear on their face. It made me think, what if our faith was like that? Complete, unhidden and made manifest among others. What if we weren’t ashamed to tell others how much we loved God? What if we were proud of our faith? 
Ask yourself, what does your faith look like? 
Keep smiling. x

recommit

Last week I witnessed a friend of mine taking a stand in front of a group of people at a worship service. He stood up in front of everyone and poured his entire heart out. He was not only struggling, but finding that life was just throwing way too much at him to handle. There wasn’t enough time to let God in and he wanted to recommit to God in front of everyone and asked for us all to pray for him. 
I found myself tearing up as I heard him speak. Only moments before, I had mentioned how he always looks so happy, always with a huge smile plastered across his face. Little did I know what was really going on beneath the surface. I felt a wave of emotions all at once. I had assumed that this guy had his life together, that he was content and happy with his current position. I was so, so wrong.
In one of my earlier blog posts The House with the Pretty Garden I wrote how “people are like houses; the ones with the neat and pretty gardens are often a mess inside”. Everyone is fighting their own battle. Life might not be the same for you or me, but one thing remains the same – as soon as you think you have it all together, life just gives a little smirk and thinks ‘haha just kidding’.
Once I got home that night, I was in bed and turned to Psalm 46. In short, this is what it says:

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…God is within [him/her], [he/she] will not fall; God will help [him/her] at break of day…be still and know that I am God”.

Whether you have already committed to God or if you are struggling with your relationship with him, I encourage you to wholeheartedly recommit not just today, but everyday. Everyone may be facing something different, but everyone is facing something, so just remember that you are not alone. God’s light will always prevail over the darkness that the devil is shadowing you with.
Keep smiling. x