Opposite Sex Friendships

This is a topic I’ve wished other people could talk about and guide me in, but I really never see much about it anywhere, so I suppose I’ll offer up my opinions on what I DO know to be true in regards to male and female friendships (in this case, I’m referring to both members of the relationship being heterosexual).

When the concept of a male and female friendship is brought up, I either receive responses of ‘that’s not at all possible’ or ‘that’s completely fine, what’s the big deal,’ essentially. Usually these responses correlate with different generations, logically enough. What I do know, however, is that these kinds of relationships are very prevalent among my generation today, and thus, we need to ponder and grapple with how Christians specifically need to approach this societal trend.

I believe Christian men and women can be friends with one another, as long as they approach the friendship with a shrewd mindset.

This opinion was spurred by my incredible father, who talked to me about being shrewd in dress as a woman. The reasoning for being shrewd in dress for a Christian woman is not because men cannot control themselves or women are at fault for what they wear, but because of the knowledge that sin and evil are active in others, and depending on what social situation you are getting yourself into, the goal is to act as conscientiously as possible to decrease the room for evil. Need I remind you, the enemy in cases of wrongdoing is not a person, but sin and the way Satan slithers around in these situations.

So similarly, we need to be shrewd in our friendships among heterosexual Christian men and women (or friendships among the gender you are attracted to).

Before I explain my view further, I’m going to tell you my story with this topic.

For the longest time as a child, I had a male best friend, Nathan, from about 5 years old until I was 10, and then we still remained close friends until I was about 13. We had tons of fun being active and creative, playing anything from imaginary games to video games. But as we got older, we drifted apart, mostly because we gravitated towards more friends our age (he was three years younger), but also I think because Nathan hit adolescence and maybe started feeling differently about being such close friends with a girl.

At that point after Nathan drifted away, I had a couple guy acquaintances through band in middle and high school, but for the most part I didn’t have any guy friends. I kind of felt like I couldn’t have any, or that they had to be friends who would develop into something more, as many people still believe today. Perhaps that’s how it should be at that age, as people are changing a ton hormonally and maturity-wise, and can be a bit unpredictable or fickle in regards to feelings. But I think there’s possibility for friendship for sure once both parties have fully matured. But shrewdness then comes into play.

Nowadays I have many guy friends. I just hung out with one at the library yesterday, I played cribbage with one today, and there are a couple others I talk to almost every day. Keep in mind, I do think the way to approach these friendships varies depending on whether the friend is or is not dating someone and your own romantic status.

Sometimes it can be better to hang out as a group with others, sometimes people can be perfectly fine one-on-one, and frankly, I think it all depends on comfortability, relationship statuses, and most importantly, the potential for lust and other applicable sins to creep into the friendship.

As a Christian, here are some truths to gauge how you must approach your opposite-sex friendships. Sometimes I have felt unsure how to approach some of them, as you likely have, so here is what we DO know:

  • As Matthew 10:16 says, we are to be as “shrewd as serpents.”
  • Lust is a prevalent struggle in our sexualized society and many people struggle with it.
  • Lust can take many different forms, not just purely sexual desires. Matthew 5:28: “But I tell you that if you look at another woman and want her, you are already unfaithful in your thoughts.” As someone who has often struggled with this sin, sometimes it can present itself as thinking too much about someone, having false hope where there should be none, twisting their words to create meaning where there shouldn’t be, and other things that have escaped my mind currently. While some of these things are indeed more applicable to when one or both parties are unavailable to date, the main truth here is that Satan is always active and trying to bring you and your loved ones down. Don’t underestimate the number of ways sin can manifest itself.
  • Your friend is a brother or sister in Christ.
  • Your friend should be treated with love and respect.
  • Any romantic partners in relation to the friendship should be treated with love and respect.
  • Mark 12:31: “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater as these.”

There have been a couple of times I’ve struggled with liking guy friends who are off limits, in which case I’ve had to wrestle through and change the relationship accordingly. Sometimes that means ending the friendship sadly, sometimes that means making boundaries, sometimes that means only communicating in groups, these things all depend on the individual and what needs to happen to decrease sin.

When you are not struggling with attraction to the friend, though, it’s good to still keep sin in mind and be aware that you never know what sins others are struggling with, especially something like lust that someone is clearly not going to talk to the other about.

In either case, be shrewd with your opposite gender or gender of attraction friendships. Constantly think of how to serve and love your friends. Eradicate room for sin in one another’s lives as much as possible, regardless of whether you know their struggles or not. Act in whatever way will best honor your friends as members of Christ’s body. Make love and respect the main priority in your friendship, and by extension, Jesus. Interact with your friends how you would want to be interacted with, whether single or dating.

Enjoy the beneficial and different perspectives these friends can have, celebrate the beautiful people and company you have with others, but also strive to create a godly community that fights sin and spurs one another closer to the Lord. That’s my two cents on male and female friendships.

Please, please, please feel free to add your thoughts! I’d love to hear them. And let me know if anyone else has addressed this; I’d love to read more!

~Annah

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How to Prepare for (and Survive) Difficult Spiritual Seasons

I hate to break it to you, but it’s inevitable. Difficult and sometimes seemingly impossible spiritual seasons are going to come around, whether you’re mad, confused, frustrated, grieving, feeling distant, feeling disconnected, or mental health is blocking you from reaching God. Hint: I’ve experienced all of these types of seasons.

I’m writing this from a fairly good season where I’m eager to engage with God and tag-team this summer together. I have some questions I’d really appreciate answers to (*cough*), but mostly it’s smooth sailing. But I know it won’t always be, and I can’t plan how long the sailing will remain smooth, so that’s why this list is so vital. For those of you in a difficult spiritual season right now, know that I’ve had plenty of turmoil within the past 10 months and it seemed pretty bleak at the time, but I’ve come out on the other side, and you will too.

  1. Dig into Scripture consistently/have verses at the ready

Yes, we all know this one should be a given, but I think a lot of us (I’m already raising my hand) don’t crack open the Word nearly as much as we should. This doesn’t mean you have to scarf down 50 pages in one sitting, take one verse at a time if you’d rather! This is about fitting in truth into whatever little crevice of the day works for you, because we are fed the world’s lies on a daily basis and it constantly weighs on us either directly or subconsciously.

Whether the verses you read end up being applicable or not to whatever your next difficult season entails, I don’t believe that entirely matters. Oftentimes I’m so desperate in my difficult season that verbally or mentally speaking any kind of truth (a.k.a. any verse in the Bible) gives me a pinprick of hope that I’ll make it through. But also, you can never go wrong with the truth within the Gospels, Psalms, or one of the letters in the New Testament, like Philippians. My personal favorites to calm me down are Philippians, James, Psalm 139, and Hebrews 12:1-2.

These verses are love for you, they are your sword, they have been provided for you to stab the darkness when it lashes out at you, so grab the pages and start soaking them in.

  1. Confide in an honest community

Make sure you are a part of some kind of group that is comprised of faithful people who feel comfortable sharing their trials and victories with one another. Community is essential for Christians, and these people will be able to support you in your difficult seasons through prayer and reminders of God’s goodness, according to their unique perspectives.

The great thing about difficult seasons is that we don’t all experience them simultaneously. The great thing about sin is that no sin is isolated; someone else will understand what you’re going through in some capacity. Put these two facts together and the darkness begins crumbling.

Make no mistake, young people are incredible, and as 1 Timothy 4:12 says, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” However, being able to talk to people older than you with more experience is always comforting, if you want to obtain a larger perspective on things.

  1. Pray

Everyone knows how important prayer is to faith, but more specifically, I think physically documenting prayer in some way is really beneficial for difficult seasons. I like to keep a prayer journal whenever I have time, because later when the going gets tough (or I’m just curious), I can look back and see how God has provided and answered prayers.

What does that ultimately mean for your difficult season? That God is faithful. That God sticks to his promises—he will provide for you, in one way or another, even if that means the afterlife. I mean, what better provision could you have than Heaven? I’d say we’re pretty well looked after, even when the evil of this world temporarily holds us within its grasp. I think it’s pretty clear who’s going to win the fight, so bask in the promises and the conversation God has maintained with you through your prayers.

It’s pretty comforting to dwell upon what God has carried you through in the past, because it just assures you he’ll carry you through the uncertainty and funky feelings once more.

  1. Have those go-to people

Maybe it’s a YouTuber, a podcast, a musician, a writer… it always helps to have faithful entertainers in your life whose words are ready and waiting for you to easily find again when the darkness returns. Pick those wordsmiths who you know will restore hope in your soul, because that’s really what these difficult seasons are about… hope in relation to faith, and a lack thereof. God is constant. God is always who he says he is. God is always good and faithful to his promises and his people. You need as many voices as you can who will remind you of that.

  1. Put together a hopeful playlist

Along that same vein, this point is kind of what spurred me to write this blog. My favorite way to prepare for hard seasons is through music and compiling either a physical online playlist or a soul-list you can easily pull out when it’s pretty hard to see anything good about your faith or your life. I believe the entertainment we intake, especially as Christians, is life-shaping, and our duty is to locate messages that bring us closer to our faith.

That doesn’t mean explicitly Christian music (although it can), but words that help you feel less alone in your anger or frustration or confusion, words that make you feel less crazy for feeling what you do, words that encourage you and remind you it will get better again, just hold on.

This summer I have been considering starting a radio station when I return for my last year of college, called Annah’s Anxiety Tunes. I want to provide songs of hope for listeners to store up for hard seasons, whether mentally or in general, because I know how desperately I seek that. Regardless of whether or not it ends up happening, storing up hopeful songs is something I will actively continue to do and share with loved ones.

 

These are the primary weapons you need to poke a beaming yellow happy face in that blanket of black. God is on your side. He will not let you go. You matter. You are valuable. God has not forgotten you.

~Annah

Stillness

He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. ~Psalm 23:2

As I look at 2018 and as I look at my life beyond 2018, I sense plenty of chaos. More and more decisions as I grow older, less and less of a comfort zone in place, and a ginormous temptation to be in an ever-present frenzy of fears.

I always had this naive idea that once school/homework left the picture, life would be grand. But every semester I take a step closer to graduation and realize that it’ll only become harder. Later on questions transition to where do I live? who do I live with? where am I going to work? what do I even like doing? and the list can go on and on.

I’ve always been pretty confident that I don’t know what the heck I’m doing with my life. Family members have tried endlessly to conjure up work ideas for temporary or permanent work, and I’m very grateful for their diligence in regards to my future. But at the end of the day, I can’t help but believe that me and God are gonna tag-team this one. It’s a large daunting concept isn’t it: YOUR CALLING (*cue dramatic music*), but I think people tend to go about it the wrong way, like God will magically descend and say ‘Annah, here’s what I want you to do.’ Until then you’re supposed to fret and bite your nails apparently.

I think you can do anything, as long as you’re spreading God’s light in the field you’re in. One of my favorite chapel messages at my college this past semester was given by a former graduate, who stated something to the effect of: The world doesn’t need more seminary students and Christians going into ministry. What it needs are people willing to undertake the hard fields, where God’s light is often shut down and scoffed at.

All it takes is stillness to find answers. Stillness helps you listen and redirect your focus on whose voice really matters. Stillness is intentional and not focused on yourself (because honestly, we’re all about go, go, go). Stillness gives you a chance to sort out your priorities, because at the end of the day that’s up to you. When your priorities are coated in Scripture, how can you ever go wrong?

I’ve learned many things from stillness, all very important. I’ve learned that I am replenished by acts of stillness and fighting my innate hurried nature to focus on God. I have learned that I only like writing when it’s something I’m passionate about. I’ve learned I love to write emotional and authentic thoughts on social media, because many people scrolling need to hear it and I absolutely abhor that social media’s a cesspool of pretending like everything’s great 24/7.  I’ve learned that I am in the best mindset and full of the most gratitude and peace when I am immersed in music, whether classical or modern. I have learned that I value and hold a passion for all of God’s forms of entertainment.

Given daily moments of stillness, I think you can gain a lot of insight too. We focus so much on the ‘doing’ that we usually forget about the ‘being’: when we need to listen and focus on God’s desires rather than our own. Let Psalm 23 wash over you this year, as it has started to wash over me:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters. 

He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness

for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the 

shadow of death,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me; 

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me 

in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord 

forever.

For now, I’ll stick to the joys I have been given: music and words. (Currently listening to Harry Potter music.)

The questions and choices in your life may grow louder and more frantic over the years, but you don’t have to follow suit. Praise the Lord!

~Annah

The Problem of Christian Isolationism

It’s no secret that attending a Christian college means residing in a Christian bubble—it’s hardly reflective of real life, with little to no belief disagreement or push-back. We are blessed to have people challenging us intellectually, and occasionally religiously, but far too often I witness Christians isolating themselves. This is only a small portion of Christians that I engage with at one school; it happens everywhere at every stage of life.

Too many Christians nowadays only cling to explicit Christian ideas, texts, and entertainment. Frankly, I believe this is unwise and a very limiting way to live life.

I grew up in a Christian home and have officially dedicated my life to Christ for about six years now. Even at a young age, I’ve subconsciously thought about explicit Christian entertainment and how Christians should interact with their world. I always thought Christian radio was the corniest thing and wanted no part of it when other people would play it in the car. My family avoided watching movies like “The Passion of Christ” and I avidly read Harry Potter (currently re-reading for the 1000th time), starting from about age five, when people would look at my petite body next to the 500-page books and think I was the next Einstein.

Admittedly, having just finished an 11-page paper for my rhetoric class about why I believe Harry Potter has numerous Christian themes in the eighth movie alone, this topic of Christian isolationism has been on my mind a lot lately. Also, please understand this is NOT me telling anyone their methods of living are inferior or superior. There is nothing wrong with explicit Christian texts, movies, and music.

This past summer was the first time in my life I picked up a “Christian” book and read it. Since then I have read a couple and had no serious problems with them. I think some Christian books can be good and Scripture-breathed. The couple I have read (Mere Christianity, Jesus > Religion, and Uninvited) were much better than I thought they would be. However, they’re still not my first reading choice like I know they are for boatloads of other people—it’s perfectly fine to enjoy them—but it’s also important to remember that if you’re reading them thinking it’ll be a replacement for the Bible, that’s a red flag.

It’s fine to enjoy a good Christian book, but if that’s 99% of the books you read, I think there’s a problem with that. If Christian radio is your jam, sing along all you want, but if you never interact with any music outside of that, I think there’s a problem with that. If you truly believe anything that’s not explicitly Christian is sinful or satanic or any other negative denotation, I really have a problem with that.

Why do I think this is such a big deal?

Because I believe in a God who works through everything. I believe in a God who can use anything to portray his values, including tainted humans like you and I or tainted things like Harry Potter and punk music, if that’s your opinion. I believe God made everyone in his image, even those that haven’t accepted him, so small traces of his character can be found even in the most far-reaching aspects of life.

The coolest thing to me is when I read a book about another belief system or go to a concert where people smell like weed and beer, and soak in the words that are on the page or screamed from the stage, because I usually hear a small sliver of truth. Even if it’s the smallest sliver it gives me so much joy and hope, reminding me that even those people have the capability of carrying out God’s light if they wanted to.

Christians, I challenge you to read or listen to something you don’t like and see if you can find something decent in it. I think you’d be pleasantly surprised. Otherwise you avoid texts and entertainment for surface-level reasons and miss the bits you actually would like. For example, if you put down a Harry Potter book at page two for having witchcraft, you’ll completely miss out on the sacrifice, love, and friendship themes that remain prevalent in the overarching storyline.

I don’t believe I’m being “worldly” if I enjoy fantasy books or listen to pop music. I believe I’m engaging with God’s world—a world that extends beyond Bob Goff and Hillsong.

~Annah

Social Media Can Positively Influence

Last year I wrote a post called “Our Twenty-First Century Enemy” about the tension new generations have between internet and truly living, how we’re stifled by our phones. This isn’t necessarily a contradiction blog, but I’ve recently started thinking social media isn’t as terrible as we like to make it out to be.

Honestly, sometimes I think I’m supposed to spread light through social media.

I cannot pinpoint an exact turning point, but somewhere within the last five years I stopped posting random crap on Facebook, like so much of what you see scrolling through and started—with lack of a better word—posting light and honest, genuine thoughts about the world for my family, friends, and even mild acquaintances to read. In all honesty, my Facebook is kind of my second blog, and maybe I put a lot of my heart on it, but never once have I regretted that.

I think heart is exactly what social media is lacking and what I believe social media needs. The world is what you make it, and so is social media. People are so polarized over whether it’s a good or bad thing, but why are we wasting time arguing about that?! I want to speak directly to every Christian reading this. Here is a pure, inexcusable fact:

Social media is the language of the average first-world human today.

You can like it or you can hate it, but it’s a huge way to spread love nowadays, which is something 9/10 people neglect to do. Christians, we need to engage with social media, instead of looking down on those that have their noses stuffed in their phones. Why not write something that matters on your Facebook wall or Twitter feed? Post a meaningful note under your next Instagram caption. That doesn’t mean hitting everyone over the head with Bible verses (they’ll probably just un-follow you), but just something simple like saying ‘hey you? you matter’ (one of my favorite phrases). Show people they have worth beyond their phone and the picture-perfect life they try so desperately to portray, even if that means explaining that through a phone.

You can serve others through social media and I think that’s exactly what people glued to their phones need. They need life and they need your words, so utilize them. I’ve been told my posts are refreshing to read compared to political, hateful junk spewed around constantly, so maybe there’s a method amidst the madness.

I wholeheartedly believe that social media DOES NOT have to be a draining, depressing cesspool. Like everything God has allowed into creation, it has its silver linings and the capabilities to turn people to Jesus. But in the case of social media specifically, the device to pull people in is going to have to be you and your words.

I believe God can work through anyone and anything, including social media. Do you?

~Annah

P.S. Happy birthday to the best brother in the world!!!

My Greatest Inspiration

Three years ago yesterday I got baptized. One year ago today I saw my favorite band, Switchfoot, in concert for the first time, after listening to them for at least a good 12 years of my life. So naturally, it’s only fitting that my sister and I are going to watch Jon Foreman, the lead singer of Switchfoot, perform today. And frankly, all three of these events are strongly correlated (yeah, statistics lingo! It does come in handy.).

This post is dedicated to Jon Foreman, my greatest inspiration of all time. I’m going to tell you about the little I know of this man and why he deserves an entire blog post.

  1. Jon is an incredible writer and strings words together beautifully.

Look no further than any Jon Foreman or Switchfoot song to find poetry and poetry done well. But it’s also well-done in its simplicity, which is something I respect immensely. Many people strive to write the most eloquently or the most scholarly, but sometimes the best messages are simple and straightforward, and sometimes that’s what it takes to make words stick.

“Your heart is a work of art.”

“I arrived at the conclusion: love isn’t made, love doesn’t sell or pay, but we buy and sell our love away.”

“Don’t let the panic bring you down.”

“Don’t let your spirit die before your body does.”

  1. Jon is introspective, and thus, can pull on your heartstrings just the right way.

If you know yourself well and your faults well, you probably know humanity well. That’s Jon Foreman. He gave an incredible TED talk that I still love listening to (and I suggest you all check it out. It’s still bookmarked on my computer from a year ago.) His art and personal character don’t evolve from an outpouring of perfection, but from a man who knows his faults and imperfections very well. I love and respect those who are willing to share their struggles openly; I believe that’s what people of faith should be like, as God thrives in our weaknesses.

“Maybe that’s where life is born

when our facades are torn…

pain gives birth to the promise ahead.”

  1. Because of a daily walk with the Lord, Jon’s lyrics are drenched in Jesus and his promises.

One great lyric that I believe represents Jon’s worldview best is “We were born into the fight.” As a believer, we face a daily battle and the struggle of choosing the Lord over temporary pleasures. One of my favorite Switchfoot songs on their most recent album is called “If The House Burns Down Tonight” which is a powerful message originating from a fire in his hometown. His solo music especially frequently breathes out Bible verses, proving his familiarity with the Word.

“Would you create in me a clean heart, O God? Restore in me the joy of your salvation.”

“I’m not sentimental. This skin and bones is a rental.”

  1. Joy seeps out of every one of Jon’s pores.

I learned this from going to Switchfoot’s concert last year. Multiple times throughout the concert, Jon interacted with the crowd. The best part was when he walked through everyone standing in front and made his way to the people sitting in the back, who had probably not expected his attention at all. He went up to a young man and plopped his hat on his head, acting like they were old friends. But what a cool metaphor for Jesus! We are to be people who exhale joy and make everybody feel like somebody. You matter.

  1. Jon soaks in people and does not take a single one for granted.

Jon puts everything aside to cater to other people. For example, he nearly missed a plane one day at the Detroit airport because he stopped to talk and take a picture with my brother and his friend. (I was not at all jealous…) We were made to bring hope to others, but we remain so self-centered! Live in active awareness of that struggle and push past it.

“You’re gonna be you and it’s going to take a lifetime of practice.”

“Don’t let past mistakes rob the present of its potential for beauty and joy.”

“It’s going to take a struggle to become who you are.”

Let’s use Jon Foreman’s faithful spirit, among other inspirations, to push ourselves to action. Let’s grow the Christian family that society so often misconstrues. Because if we don’t properly portray God’s love and joy to others, why would they want check Jesus out? The world receives improper portrayals of Christ daily, so let’s be the light, shall we?

(This link looks funky, but it should work fine!)

~Annah

Music Makes Me Soul-Search

“It’s been a long day

Without you, my friend

And I’ll tell you all about it

When I see you again.”

I’ve heard this song a lot of times in many different contexts and it hits a little bit differently each time. But every time I hear those initial piano chords, it pulls at my heartstrings. As of 2 years ago, I associated this song with leaving my three weeks at Windy Gap, a Young Life camp in North Carolina, where I voluntarily served for three weeks folding laundry and cleaning cabins (and hosing down the lost-and-found shoes… that was nice in the 90-degree-low-of-the-day weather).

Basically, leaving Windy Gap involved the longest amount of time I have ever spent crying in my life and the one time I was genuinely mad at God. Why, God? Why would you put me in such close proximity to brothers and sisters in Christ I love to death only to be torn from them for the rest of my earthly life?

But in a way, it was God gracefully allowing me to see a glimmer of heaven.

On top of those emotions, what was the main song throughout Luke’s memorial? That’s right, the same song. When I heard the first chords my heart dropped a little, as if the significance wasn’t already emotional for me. But we were really blessed by Luke Granger. The bright, hopeful, joyful, yellow-spirited Luke Granger that looked upward no matter what was in front of him.

While no one is perfect, in a way the remembrance of Luke’s life was also a gentle reminder from God for my anxious, white-knuckling-until-the-bitter-end soul. A gentle where are you looking? nudge from Dad.

Everything is grace-driven.

So now I sit at the late hours of the evening listening once more to “See You Again,” along with an entire playlist I created called “Luke.” I sit, I listen, and I’m fidgety. I’m not content. I don’t want to sleep, I don’t want to watch a show or a movie, I do not want to continue passively watching my life flash by without any heart or soul in it. I want to write, I want to create, I want to breathe life into a dusty world.

Is anyone else bothered by their passivity?! AHH! God called us to be ACTIVE and too often in the twenty-first century we’re handed passive tool after passive tool. I’ll just sit here and worry about how my words sound instead of just writing, because I compare EVERYTHING, everything to other people.

I want to write and I am going to write. And I will tell you all about it when I see you again, friend.

~Annah