Why Under the Same Tree?

Hi friends!

I’m only one week into fundraising to serve in Kenya and Uganda with Under the Same Tree (UTST) and have been incredibly blessed by your outpouring of love and support! At this moment in time, you all have helped me raise $1,051 of my $4,000 fundraising goal! I am so in awe of God with His provision through you!

In this post, I want to share with you how I was led to serve with UTST (https://www.underthesametree.com/). About a year ago, I was pursuing serving in Africa long-term with a larger organization. Though the application and interview process grew me even closer to Christ, I began feeling unrest in my heart about the path I was pursuing. It was at this point I was introduced to UTST and knew I needed to be part of this team, thus discontinuing my application with the other organization. (More details about this moment in my life here: https://ericagrogg.wordpress.com/2016/10/12/my-journey-to-yes-and-yes-again/).

At this point you may be wondering, “So, Erica, what about UTST was such an appeal to you and continues to tug at your heart?” First and foremost, UTST is Christ centered, striving to provide Gospel-centered programs to the communities it serves and its principles are rooted in fundamentals of the Christian faith. I have noticed a strong emphasis on preserving human dignity while equipping communities to prevent poverty-related vulnerabilities through economic empowerment. Here’s a question I often ask myself that I feel UTST works towards: How do we help people feel more human?

Through my work experience, reading interests, and faith, I have developed a heart for trying to answer this question. I yearn to find ways to help people feel a little more human, to feel included, and to learn how to advocate for themselves. In the time I have served alongside other volunteers at UTST, I’ve picked up on the same heart in each of us.

To wrap up, here’s where I need your help: I still need to raise $2,949. I would also love to meet with each of you one-on-one to talk more about this opportunity. To financially support this opportunity, donating straight to my PayPal account (PayPal.me/EricaGrogg) is ideal in order to avoid extra fees from GoFundMe. That being said, I do also have a GoFundMe account if you feel more comfortable donating via that route: https://www.gofundme.com/send-erica-to-africa. Whichever you decide, please know that your support is an incredible blessing.

Please let me know if you have any questions!

Much love,

Erica

Psalm 67

“Okay God, I’ll go.”

“’Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!’”      Psalm 46:10

To “be still” is so counterintuitive to what society screams at us. We live in such a “go-go-go” world where to pause and rest seems like a foreign act. Being still is continuously a struggle for me. It never fails, I try to control my life, which only leads to more stress and anxiety until I repent and surrender to God.

This happened to me in the recent past. I reached a point of being overwhelmed by stress and shutting down. I’ve been watching every facet of my identity begin to crumble, leaving me to discover my sole identity in Christ.

How so?

I’m leaving the comfort of a full-time job to return to school and seek a part-time job.

I’m moving out of my parents’ house to be closer to school.

I’m changing to a different church body to be able to serve in the community in which I’ll be living.

I’m experiencing the strong single woman identity I’ve built for myself come crashing down.

I’m volunteering with an organization that tugs at my heart and is leading me to Africa.

God has undeniably orchestrated the timing and presentation of each of these changes, yet I have still tried to maintain a false sense of control. It wasn’t until I metaphorically threw my hands up and said, “Okay God, I’ll go” that I found full peace in my changing life.

Now you may be asking, “Go where?” My surrender to God was specifically in regards to following His lead to change church bodies, but as I’m typing this, I’m realizing there is so much more tied into this action of going.

So once again, “Go where?”

To go where God leads me.

To exalt Him among the nations.

To exalt Him in the earth.

The simplicity of the words used in my response does not grasp the depth of the meaning. To go where God leads me means to trust the unknown, to be okay with only seeing the next step in front of me and nothing further, to let go of control.

Here’s where I need your help. In the midst of so many life changes, I have also felt called to serve in Uganda and Kenya August 12th-27th with Under the Same Tree. In regards to the timing of this trip, I am already so in awe of God: I’ll be leaving one week after moving into my apartment and returning the day before classes begin. My goal is to be fully funded by the end of July. I need to raise a total of $4,000, which breaks down to $1,000 per week. This amount will serve to provide my airfare, housing, and food, along with a donation to Under the Same Tree. Will you please prayerfully consider financially supporting my time in Africa? I would also love to meet with each of you one-on-one to talk more about this opportunity. Please check out my GoFundMe page for a simple place to financially support me and also track my progress and updates! https://www.gofundme.com/send-erica-to-africa

Please let me know if you have any questions!

Much love,

Erica

One Year Sober

I bought two pairs of running shoes today. Why? To celebrate. Now you’re probably IMG_6431wondering how two pairs of shoes constitute a celebration.

Well, I’m one year sober today.

(Gasp!)

Approaching this day, I knew I needed to be vulnerable and write something, but I have also had a lot of fear as the day drew closer.

The thing is, I don’t fit the picture of an alcoholic that most people have in their mind, or at least what I had in mine. I’m young. I wasn’t drinking every day. I was capable of having one drink and calling it quits. I was successful.

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I’m not going to go into detail, but behind every smile you may have seen on my face, there was pain waiting to be drowned in wine. Successes were celebrated with tequila. Happiness came with beer. Whiskey provided relief from this world.

Eventually, I lost touch with who I was, who I wanted to be. I was worshipping alcohol, craving the sweet, sweet burn of the next drop, the next night not remembered, the next emotion unfelt.

A year ago today, that came to an end. I knew I was using alcohol as a vice, but I always figured one more glass wouldn’t hurt. I knew I needed to stop drinking, but I didn’t want to let go.

What a lot of people don’t know is I was presented with an ultimatum. As I was pouring myself a glass of wine, I felt God so clearly lay on my heart, “It’s alcohol or me.”

Either God is everything, or he is nothing.

My last glass poured went down the sink drain.

I didn’t know what not drinking would look like. Frankly, I was scared. My life the past almost five years functioned around alcohol. How would I turn down a drink offered to me? What if people judge me? Well, so what. I knew this was a choice I needed to make and stick to.

The past year came with struggle. I still crave the rich flavor of red wine, the belief that everything will be better with one more glass. Wine has been offered to me and I have had to politely decline, wondering what aromatic flavors I’m missing.

There has also been the self-judgment, which has been prominent the past week. Am I really an alcoholic? How did this become my life? This isn’t who I wanted to be, but this is who I am.

And let’s not forget the enemy’s favorite weapon: shame.

I woke up this morning expecting to be excited that I made it a year without drinking, but instead I was overwhelmed with shame. “God, I know this isn’t what you meant for me. I feel like I’m honoring you in not drinking. Why do I feel this way?” I was brought to tears and very irritable from being overwhelmed with shame. How was I supposed to be excited for this day if it’s already starting so rough?

Fortunately, I was advised to celebrate. So then I brainstormed: how would I celebrate? A lot of people didn’t know I stopped drinking, so I knew I had to be vulnerable, especially for prayer to overcome this intense feeling of shame. So, that’s what I did, which was way out of my comfort zone.

Here comes the part with the shoes: I already knew I wanted two new pairs of running shoes to reward myself, but I didn’t have it in my mind to buy them today. I miraculously found some spare time, so I knew I needed to buy them today. Buying the shoes woIMG_6428uld be my celebration. I found myself at the store, and my friend happened to be working. I can’t even explain how excited I was to see her. She usually doesn’t work Sundays. I sat there while she was sizing my feet, telling her why I was buying these shoes today. Also, I was genuinely excited while telling her I reached one year of sobriety. The hour or so I was at the store was possibly the best hour of the day. I felt so much joy radiating from this friend of mine. My heart was happy. God knew I needed to be released from the shame, and he used her to bring me that taste of freedom.

You’re probably wondering, why two pairs? Honestly, I only have one simple answer: a pair for trail running and a pair for road running, and buying two pairs was a special treat to myself.

Here’s my last thought: maybe, just maybe, those shoes represent freedom. Running is my time to talk to God, to listen to what he has to say to me. It’s my time to be alone, to be myself, to be free.

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” Romans 8:1-2

The Heart of Authenticity

Okay ya’ll, it’s real talk time.

Remember that word I mentioned 10 days ago? That word that kept appearing in my life? If not, or if you need a refresher, check it out here: https://ericagrogg.wordpress.com/2017/02/06/authenticity/

Are you caught up? You can probably guess where this is going.

It. Keeps. Appearing.

Authentic.

Let’s investigate: to be authentic is to be raw, known, and accepted.

Wait. Did you read those last two?

Known.

Accepted.

Maybe that’s it… maybe the heart of living an authentic life is being known and accepted.

It’s time to dig a little deeper. One of the definitions of “authentic” I found a week and a half ago was “worthy of acceptance.” I wonder, is that at the heart of living an authentic life? Bear with me just a bit.

You see, I have this theory that every single person who has lived on this earth craves acceptance. The problem is where we turn for acceptance. Maybe a few of these ring true for you:

Opinions.

Relationships.

Performance.

Status.

Success.

The list could continue on, but here’s the thing: what if I told you that there is someone out there who doesn’t care about any of the words on that list? Would you believe me if I said there is someone who already finds you worthy of acceptance?

Okay, okay, I know I probably sound kind of crazy right now. Who in their right mind would ignore that list and only look at your heart?

Ready for it? God.

Yep, I said it. God.

He knows the depths of our hearts. He longs for us to invite Him to pour on us the surplus of grace He offers. He deems each of us as being worthy of acceptance.

So, here’s my question: are we willing to open up our raw and vulnerable hearts to Him, allowing Him to fill them with His grace and love, thus bringing us the opportunity of feeling true freedom and acceptance?

That, my dear friends, is what I believe to be a constant struggle. Our humanness can’t fathom a love so deep, a love so authentic, a love so pure. Yet, there is a Love that accepts us as we are, presenting us with the opportunity to be deemed worthy to drink of its overflowing cup.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27cropped-img_72901.jpg

Authenticity.

Authenticity.

Every time I read or hear this word, a picture of a young child learning how to pronounce it pops up in my mind. Can you see it? Can you hear it? AWE-THIN-ticity.

This word and versions thereof have appeared in my life numerous times this past week. When this happens, I ask myself, “What could God possibly be trying to tell me?” You see, this seems to be a pattern of His, bringing something to my attention numerous times to the point I can’t deny it must be from Him. I would like to assume it’s because I am skeptical and ask Him to make things obvious to me, which He so graciously seems to do.

Before continuing on, let’s examine the meaning of the word, shall we? From reading the definitions as presented by the Merriam-Webster dictionary online, I gather that to be authentic means to be: true, worthy of acceptance, and original.

But, here’s the thing. When I see or hear this word “authentic,” I tend to add another to it: love.

Authentic love.

Hmm… I continue to sit here questioning why this combination of words would be brought to mind so often.

Pause. As I am sitting here typing this, I audibly sighed when it hit me: If to express authentic love means to show truth, acceptance, and originality, haven’t I just described our Father’s love for us?

He, who loves us so dearly, so authentically, opens up His arms for us. This true love so vast we cannot fathom the depths of it is lavishly poured on us. And this love, isn’t this the love we are called to display for all to see? To live a life of authentic love, pointing everyone in our life to Christ, isn’t that our mission statement for life?

To not ignore the obvious, I continue to fail time and time again at living an authentic life of love. My prayer is that I would relentlessly continue to strive for actively living out this authentic love, continuing to be held in our Heavenly Father’s loving arms.

Will you join me?

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” 1 John 4:7-12

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The Spirit of Adoption

This past weekend, we had another baby born at The Sparrow’s Nest. There are never adequate words to describe being part of a tiny human entering this world, but in my feeble attempt, I can say there was strength, joy, beauty, suffering, and heartache.

Wait. Pause. Heartache? Yes, you read that correctly. Heartache. See, this baby’s momma chose the route of parenting where she created an adoption plan. We didn’t know exactly how this would play out. What emotions would we feel? How would we help care for the grieving mother? How are we happy for the adoptive parents when we know we are entering into a trying time for our Sparrow momma?

I experienced emotions I never expected. Watching my “boss lady” coach our Sparrow momma through labor and delivery was absolutely beautiful. She had a soothing voice and calming touch while encouraging our momma to push on. She was speaking words of truth, as I imagine God speaking words of Truth to us as He also encourages us to push on. People she loves who also love her made the long journey to the hospital and surrounded our Sparrow momma. She delivered a precious baby girl. I watched our Sparrow momma hold and nurse her baby, knowing she would soon be passing her baby on to a new family. I watched the adoptive family instantly fall in love with their new baby, a baby whose life was formed for them from conception.

As I was crying about the pain of being on this side of the adoption to a dear friend of mine, the side of watching a mother hand over her baby, she pointed something out: even Jesus experienced adoption. He was the sacrifice. God place His one and only Son on this earth to experience every emotion we could possibly feel, yet remain focused on His Father. Jesus was fully human and God.

As my dear friend also pointed out to me, the trinity and adoption correlate.

The Father made an adoption plan for His children. He sent His one and only Son to walk the earth so we can be adopted into His family.

Jesus experienced being adopted as he was baptized and the Spirit descended upon Him.

The Spirit, in us, shows us in increasing ways that we are chosen, purposed.

Rejoice! Oh, how beautiful! God chose us to be adopted into His family! It isn’t without pain, but the joy of being part of God’s family surpasses the amount of suffering!

I also want to share with you some words from my boss lady in response to texts about feeling inadequate: You are chosen. You are Imago Dei, the image of God.

We are created in God’s image, a God who chose us to be adopted into His family! My soul rejoices for this Truth!

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” Romans 8:15

At the Cross

Last night, I pictured myself on the cross, and I fell even more in love with our Savior. Have you ever done this before, pictured yourself on the cross? It’s rightfully our spot, but Christ bore the weight of our sin for us. He hung on a tree and was crucified even though He was blameless.

Picture this with me for a moment.

You’re walking, but you’re barely picking up your feet. You feel heavy, heavier than you’ve ever felt before. You’re dragging a cross, your cross, the one you’re about to hang on. It’s weighing you down. You pause, take a breath. A whip cracks on you, making the pain you feel even worse. How can you carry on? You must, though you are marching to your death. You look down at your naked, bloodied body. Is it really you? Look left, look right. People yelling at you, cursing you, mocking you. Their words blur together, but you hear some of the lies. Unlovable. Damaged. Dispensable. Look ahead, there’s the hill on which you will die. It’s so close, yet so far. The sky is grey, the air somber. Must you keep going? The whips keep cracking, but then something changes. You hear the whips, but you don’t feel them. The words stop penetrating your soul. Look left again. There’s a man, dragging along beside you. His flesh is torn, he wears a crown of thorns. You feel light, then you realize you are no longer dragging your cross, but he is carrying yours, too. You recognize him, you know he’s blameless. Why is he here? He looks at you, and says, “I will carry you, all you need to do is ask.” 

Do you run the opposite way? Do you continue on to your death alongside him? What do you choose? 

You look around, the people are now inviting you, luring you with riches of the flesh.

You look at the man, considering carrying your cross alongside him, the cross that is rightfully yours. You hear the crowd turn against you as you look at the man. 

He offers more, a drink of water. “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14

You look back at the people, tempted by them. But, you choose. You drink the water he’s offering. You take your cross from the man. The suffering begins again, but this time you feel unexplainable joy. You carry on to the hill, this man beside you. It’s your joy and honor to walk this path with him. To die with him. To give him the glory in your death, a death from hanging on the cross beside the man whom you love, the man who loves you. The nails, yes, they hurt. The thought of living in death hurts even worse. You know the riches for you are not of this earth, but in the kingdom of heaven.

This picture stuck with me all night. How could Christ possibly love me so much that he would walk this earth, suffer, and die on a cross, offering himself as the sacrifice for my sin? I deserve that death for my sin, yet all he asks of me is me. I have nothing to offer him except myself, my life, my service. I come to the cross with my arms stretched, hands open, because that’s all I have to offer: myself.

What about you?

At the Cross as performed by Johnny Cash

Alas and did my saviour bleed and did my sov’reign die
Would he devote that sacred head for such a worm as I

At the cross at the cross where I first saw the light
And the burden of my heart rolled away
It was there by faith I received my sight
And now I am happy all the day

Was it for crimes that I have done he groaned upon the tree
Amazing pity grace unknown and love beyond degree

At the cross at the cross where I first saw the light
And the burden of my heart rolled away
It was there by faith I received my sight
And now I am happy all the day

But drops of grief cannot repay the debt of love I owe
Here lord I give myself away it’s all that I can do

At the cross at the cross where I first saw the light
And the burden of my heart rolled away
It was there by faith I received my sight
And now I am happy all the day

At the cross at the cross where I first saw the light
And the burden of my heart rolled away
It was there by faith I received my sight
And now I am happy all the day