All posts by carissajoy

About carissajoy

My name is Carissa. I like to write, read, and be inspired.

Birthday reflections.

On the eve of my 24th birthday, with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head, I’m in a reflective state of mind. As I think about everything that’s happened since my last birthday, one theme keeps coming back: God has been faithful this year, and He has kept so many of the promises He makes in Scripture.

Two books of the Bible I read through this year were Psalms and Isaiah; both books detail the ways that God is faithful to his people. And in my own form, I want to tell of the promises He’s kept as well.

Here are some of the most beautiful promises in Scripture that God kept to me this year:

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I will walk with you through the trials.

A few days before my last birthday I wrote these words: “I just can’t bring myself to feel anything positive … I don’t feel well in my heart.”

A year ago, I was weighed down by deep loneliness, aimlessness, and sadness. I cried in the bathroom at work and slept too much; I dreamed of crashing my car into the median on the freeway.

This season deepened my compassion for those who struggle with depression all their lives–not just through seasons. Not only that, but it also deepened the joy I felt when the springtime arrived like coming up for air and gasping for a breath.

And through every moment of that winter, this was the promise that the Lord kept to me:

Isaiah 43:2–3

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

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I am your most constant friend and companion.

In the midst of being thrilled about a promising new job and relocating to a new city, I gradually was forced to reconcile with an impending separation from so many close friends I had made through five years in one little city. After a cross-country road trip to the West, it was nothing short of heartbreaking to watch two of my dearest friends climb on a plane back to Lynchburg, leaving me behind.

Moving to a new city all alone will force you to realize who you are at the core. When everything is in flux–my job, my home, my friends–and I’m far from all that is familiar, what is left? I was constantly reminded that the answer truly is: Jesus.

Deuteronomy 31:8

The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you or forsake you.

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I am enough for you.

Out of the blue, I had an epiphany yesterday, and it was this: I finally, finally am enjoying the season of singleness that I’m in. Not just tolerating, but enjoying. What a beautiful thing it is!

I have spent so much time in my teens and 20s on pining after some guy or another. And I do have plenty of moments when I wish for a companion. But what God has given me instead is big belly laughs with friends and deep emotional connections and so much time to invest in my career during my first few years of teaching. And I’m content with this reality. So I want to serve and give with all that I have with the abundant resource of time that I’ve been given in this season.

And that deep longing to be fully known and loved? Well, God has already seen it and filled it.

Philippians 4:19

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

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I have prepared a path for you.

This is the most mind-blowing promise that God has kept in ways I couldn’t have dreamed. Remember the difficult winter I had? Well, as winter thawed into spring, the Lord was setting into motion the answers to some of my deepest callings and longings.

He guided me to a school where I could fulfill my childhood dream of becoming a high school teacher. I don’t yet have the words to describe this, but it’s more than I dared to dream. He is so faithful to complete the work He started.

Isaiah 30:18

Your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.

I’m so deeply grateful for the lessons of year 23. My faith in God is sustained by His continual faithfulness to me; I know He will sustain me in the upcoming year. And I know He’ll sustain you too.

On tricks to save money.

Hi friends!

So, I love to share hints and ideas with people, especially when I’ve been pleased with something and have found it to work. In the last few years, I’ll admit to the following Google searches:

“how to make money quick”

“rebate apps free”

“poor college student extra cash”

Yeah, I’ve gone through all the apps that claim to help you get extra money. Some of them are amazing, and others aren’t worth your time. So I wanted to share two of my favorite ideas for making extra money with your regular purchases. You’re already buying groceries and spending money. Why not earn a little extra on the side?

Drop. You link this app to your bank account & every time you spend money at a store you frequent (Trader Joe’s, Sam’s Club, Target, Whole Foods, Starbucks, etc.) they give you points per dollar. Once you have enough points, you earn gift cards to places like Starbucks, Amazon, Whole Foods, etc. The cool thing about this one is that you can set it up and forget about it; it’ll add points automatically, and they add up gradually.

Also, if you use my code, we both get a little extra upfront.

My invite code is: kfk5s

Ibotta. You’ve probably heard of this one, and it’s a little more work, but seriously, you could be earning actual cash to your PayPal account for groceries you’re already buying. What I do is scroll through the offers while I’m making my grocery list to see if they’re offering rebates on anything I was already planning to buy. The products are sometimes specific, but you might as well see what you can get cash for.

My referral code is: lrpavby

I know it can be overwhelming to know which apps are trustworthy and worth your time, so I hope I can simplify the process for you by giving you some good ones! I’d love to answer any questions you might have about the apps, too.

Book Review: Daring to Hope by Katie Davis Majors

Remember the book Kisses from Katie? It flew off Christian booksellers’ shelves a few years ago, when we discovered the story of this young world-changer who dropped everything in Tennessee to move to Uganda in pursuit of Jesus’ calling.

The book Daring to Hope: Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful is a continuation of that story of redemption. I am so, so, so thankful to be part of the team that’s had early access to this book to share it with others. Katie’s book has a beautiful message that I think will touch so many people–especially those who have experienced loss and struggle.

This book covers a lot of ground: Katie shares many stories from her time in Uganda, and she shares what God has been doing through her and her ministry, Amazima.

But Daring to Hope is mainly about a few specific themes:

This book is about hospitality.

And I don’t mean fancy dinner parties. In my exploration of what the church is (and isn’t) in the last several years, I’ve read and experienced hospitality so beautifully, and I love to see how well Katie exemplifies this beautiful gift. She welcomes people into her home so, so well: those who need long-term care or support, and those who just need a warm, soft place to be heard.

What I love about this book, though, is that she’s honest: “Loving people is hard. It brings us to the very end of ourselves. And as much as we are trained to avoid it, the end of ourselves is such a very sweet place to be” (49). With this beautiful dependence on Jesus, she walks with people through awful, difficult times in their lives, finding healing and hope simply in the presence of community.

This book is about loss.

It’s so hard to imagine everything that Katie has seen in her time in Uganda–she details some of the hardships in this book, but I won’t spoil them here.

But through it all, she writes with a deep understanding of who God is through her loss: “He wasn’t promising me a world without trouble, without heartbreak along the way. He was promising me Himself” (23). She’s developed the wisdom to see that in so many situations, He was present in the depths of her pain, and that is enough.

I think this book is important, then, for those who have experienced loss. Katie is so honest about it. There’s no doubt it’s been hard. But she also has learned who God is through the losses, and it’s these beautiful lessons that I’ve stored away in my heart to recall when (not if) life brings pain.

This book is about hope.

I resonated so deeply with Katie when she explained that she had arrived in Uganda with a reckless optimism, with no concept of the pain and loss she’d soon endure.

She writes, “Reality would shatter my optimism, but I would realize that it was only a cheap substitute for true hope anyway” (5).

As an optimist and a lover of beginnings and fresh starts, I too can lose myself in reckless optimism. But this book serves as a reminder that God is still on the throne, even during our struggles. In fact, He’s making our stories even more beautiful through pain:

“God kept reminding me that I wasn’t the writer of this story, and that when I tried to write all the endings, wrapping them up in a neat little package, I was diminishing who He was and all He could do” (24).

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This book is a sweet taste of God’s goodness and faithfulness in one corner of the world. It will refresh you and perhaps cause you to shift your perspective. I’m thankful I’ve read it, and it contains truths I will return to again and again.

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On resting in the good news.

You know those videos where a marathon runner’s legs buckle moments before the finish line and they wobble to the ground, so other runners have to help carry them across the finish line before transporting the poor soul to the hospital?

That was me as a first-year high school teacher, stumbling from my third week of teaching into this 3-day weekend. Teaching is incredible and a fulfillment of my lifelong dreams, but it ain’t no joke, fam.

By the grace of God, a new friend was going out of town, and her beautiful waterfront home by the bay was empty for the weekend. She invited me to come rest. “Here’s the spare key. Make yourself at home.”

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My weekend view.

(This should probably strike me as odd, that a woman I’ve met just once in person would allow me to live in her house for three days. What generous and abundant hospitality. This is uncommon. Surely I don’t deserve this. But I know that when we love Jesus, He shows us how to love extraordinarily, and my friend is simply loving me with everything she has–including her home. So this humbles me and points me to Jesus, but it no longer surprises me.)

So here I am, on a sister in Christ’s back deck overlooking the water. I’ve consumed one million bajillion calories this weekend–all of them empty, many of them alcoholic, all of them delicious–and I’ve finished three books that have sat on my shelf half-finished for months. This has been the perfect setting for Skype dates and phone calls to maintain relationships that are now separated by thousands of miles. The quiet has opened enough space for Jesus to whisper gentle reminders to me on the breeze.

Rest is so healthy and allows us to recharge to do our work to the best of our abilities. Jesus modeled this rhythm of rest and commanded us to follow His example. (This is essential doctrine, people. That’s why there are so many books and articles on it.)

And as I rest, the reminder that the Holy Spirit keeps impressing on my heart is simple: you are already loved and cherished. You cannot earn God’s love or favor. You’ve already got it.

This is hard for me to wrap my mind around as an academically-minded lifelong student with an all-American work ethic. From grade school to grad school, I constantly performed for grades and constructive feedback. As a teacher, I’m consistently being observed to ensure I meet expectations. I’m always watching the state standards to make sure I’m aligned with them. I never stop trying to prove myself to my students and even to myself.

But not so in the kingdom of God. Like the lamb in the parable of the lost sheep, I’m helpless on my own; I can’t earn the rescuing of the good Shepherd. Like the lost coin, I can’t help myself be found and treasured. Like the prodigal son, I can never do enough to prove my worth or make my Father love me.

We’re already valuable and treasured because our Father has a reckless love for each of us. No performance review will change that–either for better or worse. No failure is enough to change His love for us or change the fact that we are children of God. Yes, we should work hard to use the gifts He’s given us well, but when we mess up, He doesn’t back off.

So I don’t have to hide in shame, for His love is not contingent on how good of a teacher I am or how loving of a sister or friend I am. There are no standards I have to meet, no tests I have to pass. Thank God!

And this is true for every single person: you are already welcome at the table. Despite your screw-ups and awkwardness and history of running away. Despite your background, and despite all you’ve ever done. Even despite official church statements that determine whether you do or don’t belong.

You don’t have to have your membership up-to-date to partake in the love of God. No one but Jesus can decide who’s welcome at the table, and He has already said that everyone belongs: Jews and Gentiles, men and women, sinners and saints. He welcomes us into His presence, knowing that His words will draw us in, transform us, reorient us.

We don’t instinctively think this way. In his new book Whisper, Mark Batterson talks about how we won’t hear God’s voice if we don’t set aside time to hear it, and it won’t happen by accident. It takes deliberate rest, and deliberately seeking to know the truth through God’s Word and through His whispers.

That’s why I’m thankful for the privilege and the discipline of resting this weekend. And even as I return to another week of hard work as a teacher, striving for excellence as I living a life that I’d only dreamed of just a few years ago, I’m thankful that nothing changes how wide and deep and vast God’s love is for me.

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Book Review: Convicted by Jameel McGee & Andrew Collins

Hello, dear friends. I’m reviving my blog for a while because I have a lot to say. Specifically, I’d like to share some books and projects that I’ve enjoyed in the last few months.

To set the stage, I have the immense privilege of helping launch several books from publishers and authors whose work I believe in. I hate selling a product, but I love sharing what I’m passionate about.

And the book I’d like to review here has gripped me.

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When I signed onto the specific launch team for Convicted, I wasn’t entirely sure what the book was about. It sat on my shelf for a couple weeks while I tended to other reading and projects. As soon as I picked it up, though, I could not pull myself away from it.

It’s not the writing of this book that draws in the reader. No–the writing is adequate, but nothing special.

Instead, this book has the mark of an authentic transformation in two broken men that can happen only by the power and grace of Jesus.

The true story takes place in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Just across the river is another town, St. Joseph. One of these towns is primarily African-American and riddled with distrust, brokenness, and hurt. The other is a thriving tourist trap. I’ll let you guess on which side of the tracks this book takes place.

As I read this book, I recognized this setting. On a recent ministry trip I led with Liberty University to Baltimore, my team spent one morning planting trees in a rough neighborhood on a street corner specifically known for drug activity. Just a few blocks away was Inner Harbor–the part of Baltimore you’ve heard of. It’s a magnet for visitors. It’s where you go to “see Baltimore.” But racial tensions bubble under the surface, ready to blow up just like we saw plastered across the news in 2015.

While we were there, the church we partnered with also sent us on a prayer walk. It was no more than a few blocks. As we walked in a straight line, it was like traveling through entire cities: we passed through pristine, upper-class housing, followed by a Hispanic section, and finally we entered a primarily African-American neighborhood so run-down and battered that I hesitated to allow the college students in my care to keep walking for fear of encountering trouble.

It’s tempting to to think of “bad” neighborhoods as far removed from our safe suburbs. But they’re right next to the facades that we frequent. And they’re filled with stories: true stories of hurt and devastation and hopelessness.

Out of this setting, the hurting town of Benton Harbor, Convicted tells the story of another crooked cop. Another innocent African-American man.

I’m tired of these stories. I know you are too.

But this story demonstrates the way that Jesus works in the most broken and depraved situations. Andrew truly was a bad cop. Awful, in fact. He broke the public’s trust in law enforcement and acted selfishly and recklessly. He lays it all out in this book, and the depth of his corruption made my skin crawl.

And Jameel was truly innocent. He has been the victim of so many circumstances embedded in his environment. He was so badly victimized by Andrew.

And this is the story of how they found forgiveness and hope in Jesus, then found forgiveness and hope in one another. This book gives them both a voice, and it shows us who Jesus is in the worst of circumstances.

Convicted will be published on September 19, 2017. It’s timely for our world today. We’re still wrestling with bad cops, innocent black men, racial tensions and divide, and sin in our world. We need the message of this book that anyone can find healing in Jesus and in honest relationship with one another.

A line from coauthor Mark Tabb’s author’s note summarizes the deep purpose that this book has for those who read it: “Convicted is only one story of life in Benton Harbor. Maybe its hopeful ending is just what this town–and all of us–need.”

If you are interested in this book, you can pre-order at www.ConvictedBook.com.

On speaking for justice.

In the midst of Trump’s executive order regarding refugees, and in the wake of the March for Life, I see many of my Christian friends speaking out against injustices this weekend to defend the helpless and the voiceless. I am proud to align myself with them.
I remember a specific situation when I ignored a need for action. When I was very young, my family went to the Wild Animal Park in San Diego. As we walked, I remember watching a woman in a wheelchair take a sharp corner too quickly and tip over her chair. I looked up at my dad, but he had been looking at something else. It quickly became apparent that I was the only one who’d seen her fall. I should have rushed to help, gone to her side and checked that she was okay, but I froze. I did nothing as she laid there. It wasn’t long before her daughter came to her side, but that moment has always haunted me. I still do not understand why I didn’t rush to help.
Flash forward fifteen years to Liberty’s campus. My then-boyfriend and I were fighting in a hallway. He was verbally abusing me and was threatening to physically hurt me when someone came out of a classroom to ask us to lower our voices. They had seen him slap my shoulder bag and prepare to hit me, punching his hand with his fist as a threat. They said nothing. They went back to their own business.
But I have friends who advocate for widows and orphans, unborn children, those without a home or a country of their own. They’ve seen something go wrong, and they’re saying something. Injustice is their business.
Never again do I want to be in a situation where I knew something was wrong and said nothing. Thank you, friends, for taking action when you see needs.

2016 in Review

How do I summarize a year like 2016?

It brought me to new cities like Baltimore and Charlotte, as well as familiar cities: Washington D.C. and San Diego, Manti and Salt Lake City, Roanoke and Charlottesville. I stood on the shores of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, dipped my toes in Smith Mountain Lake and a river through Zion. It was a year when I marveled at the Grand Canyon and witnessed people I love marry the loves of their lives–both wonders in their own respects.

It was filled with big accomplishments: the completion of my thesis and Master’s degree, earning recognition as English GSA of the Year, running over 300 miles and finishing two races (the VA 10 Miler and the Deep Hollow Half Marathon), starting a new full-time job. I taught dozens of people to dance–high schoolers, college students, senior citizens–and over 60 college students to write.

It was also filled with small accomplishments: investing in the community, eating locally, hosting friends and family. These things add value to the big ones. People turn experiences into moments.

Last year, I wrote a blog post documenting the ways I had achieved my 2015 resolutions as a way to celebrate completing them instead of lament foregone goals. I added to my Reverse Bucket List and set simple goals for 2016: pray hard and host well. I couldn’t have dreamt how much depth I’d find in fulfilling both of those goals.

This next year, I have more simple goals for the way I want to live in 2017. I don’t know what big accomplishments this year holds, but I know I want to spend the year cultivating habits that will make the time worthwhile.

Rest well. This year, I want to learn more about the biblical practice of resting. My framework for biblical rest was redefined in 2016; I want to rest by spending intentional time with people and without my phone, soaking in quiet contemplation, and practicing mindfulness, not mindlessness.

Be strong. Thanks to running, eating locally, and preparing to teach a new JumpFit class at Jump Lynchburg, I feel healthier than I’ve felt since I played high school sports. I want to get stronger, run farther (1,000 miles!), and live healthier than I ever have this year.

Read books. It shouldn’t have surprised me, but when I graduated with my Master’s in English, I lost all interest in reading books. If I have to write insightful notes in the margins of one more academic essay, I will scream. But this year, I want to rediscover my love of stories: the stories in the Bible, ancient stories, modern tales.

You were likely a part of this momentous year, so I thank you for joining me on the journey. Let’s grow (and run, and rest, and read) together in 2017.