Friday, July 20, 2012

Blossom & Vine.

Happy Monday sweet friends! 
I hope your weekend was wonderful and that Monday is treating you well!

A few weeks ago I began following a new blog called "Top of the Page"
I don't spend much time reading other blogs but I found Leslie to be inspiring and refreshingly personable, So she won my "follow" within minutes. 
From there I met Aly. She is a precious woman with a gorgeous family and beautiful heart for God. 
Aly was a guest post for Leslie... and just like my experience with "Top of the Page"... I became a follower of Aly's blog "the Mommie Diaries" right away. 

To my surprise I also won a little contest that Aly was offering on Leslie's page- which meant that I not only got a new blog to follow, but I was actually able to correspond with Aly personally through email. Hooray for new friends! She happens to live only a few hours away so we are planning to meet sometime in the near future to become friends in person... until then our friendship will continue to grow online. :)

On Friday my experience with Aly only grew sweeter as I got to my mailbox and found an unexpected treat! She had made me my very own personal hoop, and scripture prints, to decorate my house with! 
She sells her work on Etsy and it is all completely adorable. 
((But it meant the world to me that my piece was custom made from her heart!)) 

Aly is an encouragement to me and I know you will be blessed by her blog and her company. 
 Please visit her, follow her, and support her business! Her pieces would make excellent gifts! 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Shane and Christina Nearman.

 One of the most powerful gifts I have been given in my relationship with Jesus has been the strong friendships He has given me along the way. Friendships like these are nurturing and safe, they leave room for weaknesses and also continually call out the strengths in one another.

This week I will be saying goodbye to two precious friends 
that have been vital in shaping me over the course of the last three years.
Shane and Christina Nearman.
 They are the international directors of Models For Christ. They've been married 18 years. 
They passionately love Jesus, and compassionately love people. 
We met at Peet's Coffee three years ago, and despite all of my shortcomings they have still gone out of their way to encourage my life and call out my gifts. These are people who, appearance-wise, 
are outwardly flawless, and yet they aren't at all phased by outward appearances... 
they, like God, 
"...look not to the outward appearance, but looks to the inward heart" (1 Samuel 16:7)
That's what they have done with me from the start. When I have been nervous or unsure- they have spoken words of hope and truth, they have breathed life into me and released me into things that I didn't even know I was capable of. 
By faith they have given up everything, moved to crazy places, trusted Jesus for miraculous things (that looked foolish to the eyes of people- but fit perfectly with the stories we read in the Bible), they have loved extravagantly, served without recognition, and been strong examples to us all of what it looks like to live out what Jesus said in Matthew 16:25~

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, 
but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 

I pray that as I grow, I become more like Shane and Christina Nearman.
Which means to become more like Christ.
I am so grateful for them in my life.
I wouldn't be who I am today without them.

I love you Shane and Christina! 
 Thank you for everything you do!
You really are changing the world! 

Fear of what others think.

So for those of you who have been reading my blog for a while-- you know I'm no stranger to the feelings of insecurity. No, unfortunatey insecurity and I are like dysfunctional lovers... we hate each other and yet somehow we just won't leave each other alone.
To be honest I hate being the girl who is constantly struggling with the way she sees herself. I wish I could be the gorgeous, fun girl who struggles most with something like time management, or occasional gossip. While I do wrestle with those two things often, it is no question that daily I'm most ravaged by the war in my mind to believe the truth about my beauty and my identity in Christ.
Sometimes its hell. Sometimes its not.
But most times I feel it, even if that day the struggle is not particularly brutal. 
Even just last night I was driving on the 405 and having to talk myself down, because my thoughts had gotten so mixed up in anxiety and comparison, and it took everything in me to believe that I was still beautiful, as I imagined myself standing next to some of my gorgeous model friends... feeling short... and big... and flawed.. next to them. 
It was silly. And so wrong. But still deeply painful. 
So as much as I hate being "the girl with the issues"... as long as God allows me to wage war with this stuff, I will continue to open about it with you.. in hopes that the insights I learn in this process, will encourage you in your own lives. I think we need each other. 

Which brings me to an important point that I'm learning- in order to fully walk out in the things God has for us, we need to be willing to lay down our "fear of man", or our fear of what people think... because living in that fear will ONLY hinder us. 

"The fear of man brings a snare,
but whoever trusts in God will be safe." 
(Prov. 29:25)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Meeting with God in America: From unbeliever to believer. Guest post by Marieke Dral.

This is my story.
Hi everyone, a few days ago Jess asked me to write a story for her beautiful blog. And here I am, feeling so honoured to share my story with all of you beautiful people! You’re about to read how I met Jesus, how God has prepared me for meeting Him and completing my life. This is  my journey of life that lead me to our Father.
I’m a 22 year old girl from Holland, born and raised in Amsterdam. As I was a little girl I used to tell my parents: ‘When I’m older, I will go to America. On my own. Because I wanna live there.’ Not that I had any reason for saying that –I didn’t know anything about America and have never been there. It was just a dream. And I was crazy for it.
At the age of 18 I went to University in Amsterdam to study Dutch Law. When I turned 21 I was almost done but didn’t knew what I would do next. I knew this was my chance and I decided to go to America for a few months to study. I liked studying Law, but it was all Dutch and I missed an international vibe: different languages. So I decided to go to an International Language Centre in Redondo Beach, South Bay Area. Starting September 2011.
And that decision was about to change my life forever. What happened those months in America was why I had to go there. It was about to make my life complete. Finally.

Before these months I have always been an ‘ unbeliever’ .  I was raised with the idea that there is no such thing as a God. How can some people think there is this man who has created the world and is in control of everything? It was unreal and foolish to believe in something that doesn’t exist. I have been told the world is in our own hands, it is what YOU make of your own life, things are not ‘meant to be’, you’re in control of your own destiny.
Though I always had my doubts.. but I never asked too much about it. I believed it was necessary to work as hard as you can and felt very responsible for living a ‘good’ life. There were only two people in my family who were going to a church sometimes – my grandma (from my father’s side) and my aunt ( my mothers’ sister). My grandma died when I was young, and I missed her a lot. She always gave me so much comfort. Looking back I see How important they have been in my journey to God.

Before I was going to LA, I struggled with lots of things. I grew up in a hard working family, both of my parents were working 6 days a week, together they are running a bicycle company. I had a very low self esteem and was struggling with lots of hurt feelings. I felt bad about myself and had a hard time trusting other people. After a while I ended up having an eating disorder, Anorexia Nervosa. I didn’t wanted to do anything – I was always worrying about every little thing and felt pressure and stress in almost every situation. My family was worrying about me and telling me I should stop thinking like that, and just act ‘normal’ . As much as I wanted, I couldn’t free myself from those guilty and low feelings. Through it all there was also one thing going through my head:
I need to go back to America. We have been there once on a roadtrip in summer 2007. That was amazing, I loved the States and the whole trip felt like coming home to me.  After a while I felt so much NEED for the atmosphere, the culture, the people, the freedom, the country. I felt stuck at home in Amsterdam.

One of the people I trusted the most was my aunt, I spent a lot of time around her and she was always there for me to listen –  she felt more like a mother to me than my real mom. I could share everything with her. She never got angry with me and understood me. She used to comfort me, tell me I should not worry so much and take good care of myself. Everything would be okay, if I just could lose these restless feelings. She could see it  was tearing me apart.
Unfortunately my aunt got very sick. She got cancer and in a short while she was incurable. She was already counting her last months while we were doing everything to fight for her life: take care of her, looked for every possible way there was to give her a chance of surviving. We took her to doctors through the whole country, even went to some medical professors in Germany. But no one could help. My aunt said she knew her time had come, and we should not put so much effort in desperately looking for a cure, but accept her situation. Although we didn’t gave up, she was getting weaker and in more pain each day. During her illness she was praying a lot (also for me) and wrote a lot of beautiful verses. She used to write beautiful cards to me with all flowers, to cheer me up when I was down.
When I told her I had planned to go back to America –as first one-, she was so happy to hear that ‘ I knew you would, that is a very good decision, I’m so happy for you!’ she cheered.
Unfortunately in end of February 2011, she couldn’t fight the cancer anymore and was in so much pain that she decided to take her life – by the process of Euthanasia. We all got a chance to say goodbye to her. It was the hardest thing we ever had to do. But we had no other choice to respect her decision. For the last time we spent an afternoon together  we were listening to music and I was giving her a nice manicure. We didn’t say much but suddenly she started telling me: ‘ It’s so good you go to America, you will have a wonderful time there. Don’t’ worry about anything, and please take good care of yourself.’ as she spoke those words – she was so convinced.

And now, almost a year later, I can tell she was right: There has happened something WONDERFUL in America.
Because He was waiting there for me to meet Him. Finally. AND SHE KNEW. He made me making the decisions that lead to Him. I knew He planned everything: the moment, the day and the way we should meet. I knew this because the decisions I made for being there THAT day, were different for me. I was not worrying about what I was doing, I felt it was right to do.

In October I was working as a volunteer at the LA Fashion Week. There I met the girls from YWAM. As I was just busy filling up goodie bags, something inside told me I should go and talk to some girls at the other side of the room – I didn’t knew why, but I felt I needed to talk to them. So I went over and started a conversation with the beautiful Samantha Hunt. This sweet girl told me about YWAM and their missions. Soon she introduced me to the wonderful Jessica, who’s working for YWAM and the amazing Nova, a singer/songwriter and missionary from Norway.
It was so nice to meet them! I was really impressed by their story about Youth With A Mission. They were going to church every Sunday. I had never been to a church but felt like I wanted to experience that. After a few days of working together, talking about our lives and sharing our stories, they invited me to join them the next Sunday to Generations a sermony in Huntington Beach. 
And that was the day that changed my life forever. In a few hours I was going to meet God, Our heavenly Father. As I said before, I was raised as an unbeliever, but I always felt there was something more. I felt that there was something missing in my life – but I couldn’t really point out what it was. Now I knew, it was Gods Love. He guided me to meet the YWAM girls, and to join them to Huntington. He made me going to America, He made me deciding to make that long journey and ending up this particular Sunday afternoon in that particular church in Huntington Beach.

I had no expectations from that day, I was just joining them to church, just to see how it’s like in America. But what happened there is almost too impressive to describe. I met Him. He spoke to me. Through others and I could feel Him inside of me. It was like hearing a voice while nobody was speaking. Telling me words that were so true. I was so shocked. At the beginning of that day I was still very sceptic – ‘how can there be anyone who knows what is going on inside of you, while you’ve never been open about it?’ Well, later that day I founded out that is God, our Father, our Creator.
I didn’t told any of the YWAM girls about my struggles, my insecurities or my worries. After an interesting sermony, Nova came to me with a message, she wrote down for me the next words:  Colorful Marieke, here is a word from your Father in Heaven: ‘I see your colors, and the things I have put in you. You have greater potential then you even know yourself. But it is a
lie when you think that people think you are boring. They do not think so. And I think you are fun. I laugh about you daily.’
Then Kayla, another very lovely girl from YWAM, felt like she needed to let me know God was so proud of me and there was nothing I had ever done WRONG in my life. She had something to give me, her bible. Somehow she got an extra one, and she felt God wanted her to give it to someone special, and that day had come. She knew it was for me. Then more girls from YWAM came to me, laid hands on me and prayed all together – to thank God for creating such a Beautiful woman and for guiding me towards them. Wow, I was so impressed. People I had never met until that day, could tell me what I NEEDED to hear , they answered my struggles and insecure feelings. The only one who had ever said that to me before was my aunt – just before she died. My eyes teared up and I felt this warmth inside of me - I could feel Him filling me up with His Love. There I was, finally meeting Him, surrounded by His Angels. 
As from that day my feelings changed completely. No longer I felt worried, I felt so much peace inside my heart! I felt relaxed, joyful and had no restless feelings about anything.
From that Sunday I joined the YWAM Family to Huntington as much as possible. There was so much more I wanted to learn about God and the Bible. I couldn’t wait to start building on a relationship with Him, communicating with Him. I wanted to see what He wants to show me, Do what he wants me to do, follow his guidance as I know He wants what’s best for me. I wanted to learn How to trust on Him.
I knew He would free me from my worries. He could make my life complete.

God proving His trust
And every week I learned more. About God, the Bible,  about Giving, about Relationships, about Trusting Him and Other people. About making decisions for the future. Every verse I read in the bible, it is so beautiful! And I felt more and more joyful and relaxed.
 And the most beautiful thing I have learned: How to Pray. How God listen to us and hears us.
It was the prove He was really there. And the best way of communicating with Him. As Nova and Jessica learned me: ‘Praying is the way to let Him know what you want or need, or what you want Him to do for others, and of course to thank Him for everything He has done for you. Have faith in your prayers, trust on Him and He will hear you.’ So I started praying. In my prayers I was so thankful for everything that has happened to me. So thankful for meeting the girls from YWAM, so thankful for being able to join them to Huntington Beach, so thankful for everything I learn from them. And as soon as I started He was answering my questions and hearing my prayers. It was Amazing. At first I found it hard to believe, I was still a bit sceptical and had lots of questions. So I prayed He would show me I could trust on Him. And He did. And on the most unexpecting moments, He was there. When I was thinking about something I would like to do, or wanted to have – a few seconds later people came to me offering exactly what I was thinking of, and someone else invited me to go a place I really wanted to see (without even ASKING them or letting them know I was thinking about it!). Slowly I knew it was Him knowing my desires and needs , hearing my thoughts and proving me I could trust on Him.

Together with all the stories and explanations from everyone from YWAM, I learned SO much. It felt like something was completing in my life. I enjoyed every moment I spent with YWAM SO much.  And they even told me: ‘You are shining more and more. You look so happy.’ And that was the truth. I was feeling so happy with everything. And with myself! Nothing could help me more than hearing God was proud of me and feeling His Love.
One year earlier, before I booked my trip, I was thinking I would love to spend thanksgiving in America and  now I realized it was going to happen! (A dream came true, wow, thank God!)
 Unfortunately it was one of my last weeks in America. But there was no better place I could think of to celebrate – with the YWAM family at the YWAM base. Those people I was SO thankful for, I could not find any words for it. I knew it was meant to be to spent that day with them. It was what He had planned. So my friend and me came over to the beautiful base and we had a delicious traditional Thanksgiving diner. My first Thanksgiving ever, and it was exactly how I wished to experience it – with lots of warm people and a de-li-ci-ous meal! I was so happy. It was a beautiful and powerful day
Soon after Thanksgiving the last Sunday I could join the YWAM family was coming. It was very sad, but one of the most beautiful days I spent there. We watched a great sunset on Huntington Beach and ate the most delicious Crispy Noodles EVER in the Thai Café. It was hard saying goodbye, I felt like I became part of their family. When it was time to say goodbye they prayed for me; to fill me up with more peace and joy each day and help me to shine my light towards others, and helping out my friends in need.
I was so blessed by meeting them. I can’t be thankful enough for it.
 As we said goodbye it was almost like joy – oh Jess, Shaun, Nova, Samantha, Meredith, and everybody from YWAM, I’m so happy to have met you, you’ve learned me so much! My heart fills up with Love and Joy when I think of the days we spent! And of course I know we will meet someday, God will bring us together just like he did before

I knew when I would be back home it would be different, but I would continue growing in a relationship towards Him.  This was just what happened. And that is just what happened. I prayed a lot for people I wanted to help out, I wanted to be a light towards others. Soon after I came home I was able to help one of my friends, she was very depressed. Together we spent NYE in London: another dream that came true! I always wanted to do it someday, I didn’t told my friends but suddenly two weeks before we found a very cheap offer to go to London those days! We had a very special time. I encouraged my friend to make a new start. Soon she found a new home (what she desperately needed) on a beautiful place, graduated, and now has found her happiness back again.( She is celebrating it also with a trip to America as we speak

But I knew there was also something else I felt I needed to do. It was also about time to fulfill the promise I made to my aunt – as much as I wanted to be a light and inspiration towards others, I needed to take care of myself. When I came home something really miraculous happened. I found a note from my aunt, written just before she died. It said: I have searched for Him in dark and light. When I was bruised and broken I prayed. With my last strength I lightened a candle for Him. I will always keep searching for Him, cause  even at the most unexpecting moments you will see Him in all of his Glory.
That was it, it said exactly how I should start: By trusting on Him. Those words were really important for me. It gave me hope and faith for the future. I prayed to God to give me the strength and the state of mind to heal me from my eating disorder. And slowly I am changing and getting more aware of my body. I felt it was time to take the step and get professional help, cause my ‘sick’ mind was not taking good care of my body It was very hard for me, but God made me feel it was the right thing to do. He was encouraging me in SO MANY ways. It is unbelievable, even at my most weak moments I feel Him supporting me, and telling me He is so proud of me.
When I reached a very very low point, and prayed –  I wanted and needed food so much but was so scared. When I came home the end of that day, there was a package waiting for me. All the way from USA, my favorite chocolates from Trader Joes! It was from Nova, my amazing friend! She also felt like sharing with me great lessons about Body, Soul and Spirit, and How we are wonderfully and fearfully made. What a miracle. It was EXACTLY what I needed.
Now, I am still struggling, sometimes I still feel insecure, upset, desperate and stressed out. But then I sit down and pray, and He will let me know He is always there: by a message, song or anything that comes my way. He is supporting me and encouraging me to make this through. He is telling me not to worry and to give Him control. By all those miracles he is proving me that everything will be okay if I do. He will give me Hope and Strength to be able to make this through.
I am so proud to say:  He is healing me from my eating disorder. Our Father is saving me from a worried mind and letting me be who I really are: funny, optimistic, smart and a light to everyone around me. I feel like walking on Sunshine.
Matthew 7:7 Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9Matthew 21:22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith

The night we said goodbye, before Marieke returned home to Europe
Thanksgiving at YWAM LA. Nova is on the far right. 
Haha just want to show you the snowman cookie I made that night :)

Celebrating Meredith.

So the other night we celebrated Meredith. Not because it was her birthday. Actually because it would have been her wedding day, if she and her fiancé had not broken up late last year.

We wanted to be sure Meredith knew how loved she was, and that though her plans are different than she thought, she was going to be okay.

So Shaun, Mike, David, Noah and I had a delicious poolside BBQ at Mikes house. Then we all went to Pasadena for our favorite frozen yogurt.

The end of the night was my favorite though.

The guys decided to have a time of affirming Meredith. We all sat in the living room, for maybe an hour, speaking out the wonderful things we see in her. We shared the ways Gods changed her and stories of how she has impacted others. I spoke up a lot, but I think what the guys shared meant the most to her. It meant the most to me too.

Afterwards we gathered around her and prayed for her life and her future.
We wrapped up after midnight.

I am still blown away by these guys even as I write this a week after it happened. Men who love Jesus, and love girls with pure hearts, are powerful beyond words.

Meredith is a precious little sister. It was a gift to spend the evening with her and encourage her like we did. I just love her so much.

We also drew on Mikes chalk board walls. I loved that too.

Outreach in Orange County

So I'm sorry friends, I had hopes of blogging with you more this week but things were more busy than I expected and I've only found time now.

I'll start with a brief update from our outreach in San Clemente last week.

It was AMAZING. We led a team of around 25 fired up young people (mostly ages 17-25 with one 50 year old woman who had more energy than the twenty year olds) We were hosted by Heritage Church- a faithful church of beautiful people. Seriously these people blew me away with their hospitality. They welcomed us, took care of us, encouraged us, and truly believed God to use us in their community.

Over the course of the week I saw the power of God like Ive never seen before. People being healed of physical ailments right in front of me. Lonely people (who appeared beautiful, successful, and wealthy) being met with real hope and true love in Jesus. Spontaneously people wanting to be baptized in the ocean. High schoolers experiencing Gods presence for the first time...

There was so much in such a short time.

I will see if I can post some specific stories from the trip but for now here are some photos.