Sunday, January 17, 2016

God-Sized Dreams: Sharing the Stage with Natalie Grant

Around 8 years ago, I went to an event called The Revolve Tour, which was a Christian teen girl event.   I remember loving every second of that weekend event, but was extra excited about my all-time favorite singer, Natalie Grant, being there.

About 8 years ago at the Revolve Tour.
Not only did Natalie sing, but she also shared a bit of her testimony.  She shared about her struggles with bulimia, but also about Christ's love that reminded her of her worth and beauty.  Sitting just three rows from the stage, I remember thinking to myself, "That's what I want to do.  I want to be a speaker and help impact lives for Christ."  Yet, just as quickly as that thought came into my mind, I told myself, "But...I don't have a story to tell."

And bam.  After that one simple thought, I forgot all about my 3-second-long calling.  Because, you know...I didn't have a story to tell, which also meant that I didn't have anything to say.

Fast forward about 5 years.

Long story short: It took a while, but I've learned I do have a story to tell.  Even without my photo going viral (due to a facial birthmark - a port wine stain), I had a story to tell just by being born the way I was born.  In the last few years, I have rediscovered my desire to be a speaker as well as my desire to write several books.  

When people first meet me, it doesn't take long for them to realize that I'm a dreamer.  But more specifically?  I'm a God-sized dreamer.  ('Cause hey, guys, with God, anything is possible.)

I started a God-sized dream board soon after my photo went viral.  When my photo went viral, I struggled.  I was discouraged, hurt, frustrated, while feeling both incredibly isolated and misunderstood.  There were days where I would feel and know in the depths of my soul, "God is going to do something great with this mess of a situation!"  But, there were those days where the darkness would take over, filled with pain and discouragement, "God, I'm hurting.  How can you do anything beautiful with what's taking place?  Why would I even be worth of you doing something great with this?"

Although I strived to see the beauty around me, to see the positive of the situation, my heart felt as though it had been trampled upon and deeply bruised.  And each time I found a new share of my image, or I sat and read thousands of comments for hours-on-end?  Ouch.  There went another stampede, adding an extra layer of unsettled dust and pain.

About 8 years ago at the Revolve Tour.
Thankfully, every time I had had a bad day, God placed someone in my life who would call, text, or email me, "Crystal - I just know God is going to do something wonderful with your story!"...And the thing is, on the really bad days - I kept quiet, not wanting to burden anyone with my ongoing pain.  Those people who called or sent me a text?  I didn't tell them, nor anyone else, that my heart was tearing in extreme agony that specific day.

Eventually, I got tired of the pity days.  I got tired of the discouragement, I got tired feeling so  tempted on focusing on the negative aspects of what was taking place.  I didn't like the person that my pain was turning me into.  In the depth of my heart, I knew God had a plan.  In my heart, I knew something amazing would happen with my story - I just had to hold on for the ride, and stay willing.

Once I set my new attitude, I made a decision - it was time to make a God-sized dream board.  I knew I had goals and dreams...And really big ones at that.  So, I made my vision board full of my God-sized dreams, keeping it in a place where I would be reminded of the ultimate goal every. single. day...Because here's the deal...Reminding yourself of the goal of what you feel called to do, what you know you can do...Well, those pity days full of discouraging thoughts have nothing on the purpose God had (and still has) for my life.

There were many things I put on my God-sized dream board:
  • Speak for Women of Faith.
  • Be a full-time speaker and writer.
  • Encourage others with my story on Focus on the Family.
  • Share my story on K-love.
  • Do a TED talk.
  • Speak at Winter Jam.
  • Speak at a Youth Camp.
  • Write my book.
Those were just a few of my dreams.   Realistically, though, there isn't a board big enough in this world with enough room for all my dreams.  However, the first one I put on my board?  Share the stage with Natalie Grant.

Friday morning, my mother and I were driving to an event in Sacramento (3 hours from my home).  I had heard of the event, Dare to Be (put together by Charlotte Gambill and Natalie Grant), for the last three years and had been craving to attend.  Needless to say, I was excited to finally have that opportunity!

As we were driving, we were talking about my God-sized dream board.  My mother asked me, "So...What exactly does your dream, 'share the stage with Natalie Grant' mean to you?'"  I paused to reflect and then explained, "She was the speaker at the event when I first felt the calling to be a speaker, to be a story-teller for God.  She inspired me and impacted my life.  Had it been another speaker on that stage, I would have put their name down on my board - but it was Natalie."  Without knowing, 8 years ago, Natalie deeply impacted my 16-year-old heart.

...And then Friday night's event started.  Natalie sang a few songs and Charlotte Gambill spoke to the group about being known by God.  (If you've never heard Charolette speak - oh man.  You. Are. Missing. Out.  That girl's heart and words are clearly on fire for God.)

Shortly after an intermission, Natalie started to sing her new song Be One.  If you watched the video above this entry, that's the song...Talking about how it's time to be one for someone...That it's time for us to get all of "our hands dirty".  After all, why should be be "sitting around waiting for a miracle to come when we can be one"??   If you didn't listen to the song, I highly recommend that you go back and listen before you continue reading.  (In fact, I actually recommend buying her whole album.  Every single song is incredibly power, holding a 5 star rating on my iTunes account.)

Moments after she finished the song, Charlotte came back on the stage and said something along the lines of, "this is my favorite part of the night", as they choose to honor someone at every Dare to Be event.

Natalie started speaking, and some of it is a blur to me.  But I do remember her saying, "I recently first connected with the young lady we want to honor tonight on Twitter.  I saw a tweet she sent me, and something about her story intrigued me.  She doesn't know this, but I then totally started social media stalking her.  When I found out she was going to be at this event, that she lived here - I thought it would be pretty cool to honor her - and she has no idea that we're doing this tonight.  So, I want to tell you a little bit about her story..."  And the rest, my mom caught on video:

Oh. My. Word.  Guys...God-sized dreams DO come true...And apparently, God-sized dreams sometimes come with an unexpected standing ovation from about 1,000 strangers and beautiful flowers.  Also, I've learned that I have many of you to thank.  Many of you received a message from my mom on Facebook asking you to nominate me for them to honor at this event, and you did.  Natalie told me I've "been one" for many, but really, many of you have "been one" for me...Although my words feel meek in comparison to what I actually feel, I want to thank you.  You'll never know how much this has meant to me, and how much I appreciate what you have done on my behalf...You'll never fully know much I appreciate you.  

*Insert Heart Emoticon Here*
Ironically, I was hoping Natalie would be doing a book signing after the event, wondering if she even remembered me from my YouTube video she saw in October.  When I finally realized she was talking about me, before she said my name, my heart started to pound while tears started to magnetize to my eyes, and they did so once again as I stood up on the stage with her.  My God-sized dream was coming true!!...Yet, even though I almost did cry, the tears contained themselves within my eyes.  I was on emotion overload, with so many thoughts and emotions flying through my mind.  The whole thing felt, and still feels, like a dream.  Spending a few minutes on stage with Natalie, as we talked, I felt so much love from her and Charlotte (I felt like we were such kindred spirits), as well as from everyone in the room.  Two days later, I'm still a bit overwhelmed, still processing the whole event.

Between my God-sized dream coming true, now knowing Natalie occasionally "social media stalks me" and she "can't wait" to read my book, plus knowing so many of my friends sent in nominations...My heart is so full. Full of love, appreciation, and joy.  Two days later, like I mentioned above, I'm still processing everything.  I'm still speechless.  (For the last two days, my eyes have also followed the "being full" trend...Becoming so full at times that happy tears have overflowed to my cheeks.)  

After the event was over, a woman came up to me and told me, "I knew God had me come here for a reason tonight, if only to hear your story.  I have a family member who has a port wine stain birthmark over her whole body, as well as having both Sturge Weber Syndrome (SWS)  and Klippel Trenaunay Syndrome (KTS).  She's struggling, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.  I knew I had to come talk to you."  Wow.  Apparently there were multiple intentions in God's plan for my being on the stage and Natalie sharing a portion of my story at at Dare to Be.

And another cool thing?  While I have many dreams, I had three initial dreams:

1. Make a professional video about my story.
2. Share the stage with Natalie Grant.
3. Go to the publicity summit in New York City.

Read bottom to top.
...And now, here I am, seeing those three initial dreams begin to intertwine together.  I took that first step - I made that video.  Natalie just happened to find it on Twitter back in October, tweeting me bits of encouragement.  Then, I applied for the New York event and was one of the 100 people accepted to attend.  And once I found out Dare to be was coming to California?  I knew I was going to go...And once Natalie found out I was coming, we shared the stage together...Resulting in her and Charlotte literally supporting my New York dream.  (Side note: Natalie and Charlotte - if you're reading this, thank you for your encouragement and support Friday night, and for your sweet gifts...And thank you for creating a chance for my God-sized dream to become into a God-sized reality.  Once again, I can't fully express my thanks in just a few words.)

You know you're following the right dreams when they eventually intertwine seamlessly together.  I've felt like I've been following the right dreams, but it's encouraging to see how they work together, confirming I'm on the right track and in tune to what God has called me to do.

After the event, it hit me.  My God-sized dream board?  I've actually been limiting my dreaming ability, too afraid to put my full dreams down on paper.

Sharing the stage with Natalie would have been wonderful experience, no matter the capacity, but I know my dreams go much deeper than that...I was just too afraid and intimated by my own dreams. "Part one" of my dream?  Share the stage with her, the woman who inspired me as a teenager...The woman who was speaking when I felt God working on my heart to become who He has called me to be - a speaker and a writer.  But ultimately? My dream is to connect with her, build a friendship, combine ministries, and do an event with her.  And when my book is complete?  I'd love for her to write the forward.  (Book update: two chapters down, about eight more to go!)  THAT'S my full God-sized dream.  But, you have to start somewhere, right?  Baby steps my friends, baby steps.

While I struggle for the words,
 my "Nashville mom", Lynette,
explained perfectly what Friday
night's events felt like.
I don't know where you are in life right now.  Maybe you're in a low valley, feeling as though your life filled with pollution that blocks the blue skies, as you feel you're breathing in that smoggy, dirty air.  Or, maybe you're on the mountain top with crisp, fresh air and a beautiful view.  Wherever you're at in life, please dare to dream.  Dreams DO come true, no matter how big or small you feel they may be.  Make a God-sized dream board so you can be reminded of the big picture in your life, which will help push any darkness away that tries to smother you down in that valley.  What ever you set your mind to can happen.  God knows you.  He knows your heart, your intentions.  If you keep your heart and mind open to whatever ride God has in store for you, He will get you through any storm - and then some.

Also, can I recommend to you to find a good tribe of people, a good "squad" (as Taylor swift calls it) of friends who uplift you?  Friends who push you to be your very best, who hold you accountable, and those who want to see you succeed?  Friends who dare you to dream the biggest dreams you can think of, friends who help your God-sized dreams come true?  You need people in your life who help keep you focused on what you're called to do, friends who call you out when you're headed down a dangerous path, such as my friends did during my angry and self-pity days.

Those are the best kinds of friends, and we all need and deserve them in our lives.  You deserve friends who dare you to be your very best, who encourage you in all that you do...Reminding you to keep Christ in the center at all times.  If you don't have a group of friends like that in your life, find them.  They're out there.

The God-Sized Dreamin' and Travelin' Chick,

PS: Please check the website for Dare to Be.  If there is an event near your city, you need to attend!  My mom didn't know what to expect, but as we left she told me, "Wow.  Next time we need to bring a whole group here."

It's just a screen shot from the video, but man...I love this photo.

"Your world is in the hands of the King of the world." - Charlotte Gambill

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Adulting, Boys, and Pity Parties (#HavePatience)

I've never been one for pity parties.  Yet, recently, that's exactly where I found myself...Pity party for one, anybody?

Sometimes growing up can be hard.  (Can I still say that at 24?)  Legally I've been an adult for six years now, but as time goes on,  I see my friends all growing up in different, anticipated, and expected ways.  Some are moving out of their parent's homes.  Some are in new or serious relationships, getting married and having children.  Others are working in a financially secure jobs - with benefits.  There are a few that I know that are doing well in all three departments, plus many other areas in life.

If you're a long-time reader of my blog, you know a few things about me: I'm 24, I still live with my parents, and I've (still) never been on a date.  I've (still) never had a boyfriend.  And while, I am employed by a wonderful nonprofit that I love working for (the Vascular Birthmarks Foundation), I am part-time don't yet earn enough to live on my own.

By the standards of many, I'm behind.  Or maybe I should say I'm behind by the standards I've set for myself...Maybe both.

A few weeks ago I had different discussions with three of my dearest friends.  They all (now) have boyfriends, they are now moving or have moved out of their parent's homes. I am SO excited for them and I am so glad that they are accomplishing so much.  I celebrate for and with them!!...Yet, I sat there during these discussions, unable to fully relate.  I sat there, wondering, "When will I be able to move out on my own?  When will I have the joys of being in a relationship?"

Told ya.  Pity Party.  I know, envy isn't my best quality.  (And trust me, my moments of jealousy aren't something I'm proud of, and would have been much easier to hide.  However, I feel like there must be someone else out there who can relate.  Someone else who can be encouraged knowing that they are not alone.)

Soon after, I expressed my frustrations(?) to one of my close friends...All while probably sounding completely desperate, which is also not normally like me...But hey, if we're on this honesty train...Choo choo, y'all.

And then the irony happened.

I'm not usually the girl guys flirt with, or the one they show interest in.  Usually I'm the one on the sidelines, eating popcorn, watching all my friends in that role.  Then again, my friends have told me many times that I'm just blind in that aspect of life.

But then it happened: A guy showed interest.  Actually, strike that.  Within just a day or two after my venting session, TWO guys showed interest.


Who doesn't need this reminder?
Scene 1, Guy 1:  I reconnected with one of my friend's friends.  Actually, I was standing in the post office for 20 minutes while waiting for their custodian to help me save my phone...Which I very gracefully dropped between a counter (which was bolted down) and the wall.  And then walks in my friend's friend (let's call him Miles) with his sweet grandpa.  Miles eventually helped the custodian help me, and I was reunited with my phone at last!

Later Miles and I were texting...And I got awkward.

Miles: My grandpa told me you seem like a very cute girl.  I have to say that I agree.
Me: Shut up.  You're being ridiculous.

WHAT...?!!?  I told him to SHUT UP??  Who says that?  Oh, yeah...I do. (#SMH)

FYI: Don't forget about Miles.  We'll come back to him in a minute.


Scene 2, Guy 2:  I went out with some friends.  There was a live band, and we ate pizza.  Some people were dancing.  I was sitting, hanging out with my friends.  Then, I noticed a guy trying to get my attention.  Although, at first I was certain he was trying to get the attention of my friend - but he wasn't.  So, I went to him to see what he wanted.

Guy: Why aren't you dancing?
Me: I don't dance.
Guy: Come on, let's dance!
Me: No, really.  I don't dance.  I'm kinda boring like that.
Guy: *Walks Away*

Once again...WHAT?!!??   I'm boring??  Where do I come up with these ridiculous responses?  (#Reason4509ImStillSingle)

For the love!...I've lived in London,  gone viral on Facebook, and am writing a book.  Why did I tell him I was boring?  I nearly decided to chase him down later to tell him, "I told you I was boring - but I'm not.  I think your good-looks distracted me and somehow cut that important wire between my mouth and brain.  So sorry...Can I tell you about the time I was pooped on by a dolphin??"


In the midst of this, Miles told me he was interested in me.  Actually, he told me he was "intrigued" by me - and sent me a sweet list of the reasons why.  He started to text me on a daily basis, consistently in pursuit.  Yet, I took his words with caution, knowing we had to be strictly friends and nothing more.

There's that rule that every girl should have a list of requirements she wants in a guy...A list she won't budge on.  Mine is short and sweet and has been rather consistent since the age of 16.  My top four requirements?

1. He must be a Christian, striving his best to follow God.
2. He must respect my decision to stay sexually pure until marriage.
3. He must have an interest in missions.
4. He must respect his parents.

Miles isn't a Christian - and that's not negotiable if you want to date me.

And here's the thing...I learned some important lessons through my life's recent, ironic moments.

Lesson one?  I'd rather be single with no one showing romantic interest in me than single and having non-Christians showing interest in me.  You don't know what you're missing when you don't have it.  I've lived 24 years without a guy spending time pursuing me (unless I've been blind in past situations, which is highly possible), but now I've had a taste of what that could be and feel like.  I'd rather stay single, without anyone in pursuit of my heart - unless he's a Christ-follower.

This year I'm writing that book.
I'm learning to play the piano.
I'm getting that AA degree.
I'm chasing those God-sized dreams.
Also, for various reasons, I've learned I have a wall around my heart that I need to start tearing down.  Yes, I need to guard my heart...After all, if I don't, who will?   But I can take down the spiked barbed-wire that pokes out, discouraging someone from trying to reach my heart.  I've always said I was willing to date if the right guy came along, but I don't think I was as willing as I thought I was at the time.  I'm pretty sure my heart not only had a wall with pokey barbed wire, but it also had an alarm system and guard dogs as a companion.

The most freeing lesson of them all?  I may not be moving out yet, have a "Facebook official" boyfriend (nor a non Facebook official boyfriend), or financially sufficient enough.  But...I am writing a book with different publishers interested.  I am pursuing my dreams.  We're all adulting in different ways - and we don't have to fit the mold, going at the same speed (or route) as everyone else.  It's okay to write that book before you move out of your parents house.  It's okay to live overseas with a mission organization for 6 months before getting that college degree.  You're not required to follow a specific list to live your life.  It's okay to do things differently!

Make 2016 your year, whatever that may look like.  Write that book, record that album.  Move out of your parent's home, ask the girl out.  Get your passport, sign up for college classes, or apply for that job.  Dare to dream your own dreams, and take the steps to get where you want to be.  There is no specific order we have to go by to grow-up and adult.  Go buy yourself some Nike shoes and, "Just Do It".

Take those chances and live the life God has called you to live.

The Travelin' and Adulting Chick,