Tuesday, December 30, 2014

"How do you think it'll happen?"

My dad asked a question I've posed to God numerous times.

"I have no idea."

Perhaps fellow single ladies can relate. Every Christmas (and every summer, usually around July 4), the feelings return. The thoughts return. And no matter how hard I try to block them out, the memories return.

Confession #1: I've been single for five years.

Five years is a long time. Especially when you expected to at least be in a relationship by now, let alone married. Granted, three of my five years have been spent growing closer to Jesus since He saved me. That I wouldn't change for the world! I've been growing in glorious ways. Would a relationship that started a few years ago have endured? I'm not sure, but I am sure that I've become a more loving person in this waiting period. That will no doubt benefit my future relationship. Still, waiting is hard!

Confession #2: I haven't dated anyone for longer than 2 months.

There's no skirting around the fact that I dated all wrong. From my first boyfriend at age 18 to my last at 23, I either picked losers who used me or winners whom I used. My sinful relationships naturally imploded, and "long-term" seemed like an unattainable term. Now, when troublesome memories surface, I take the opportunity to pray for my former suitors. There are so many things I would change if I could, but what I can do is ask God to bless them in every area of their lives, including current/future relationships. Sometimes, I begin to regret decisions I've made and wonder if (fill in the blank) and I could have lasted longer. The answer is no. We lasted 2 months or 2 weeks or 2 days because we weren't meant to be. Not at that moment, most likely not ever. I can't be ashamed of my dating history, as sad as it was. I can only be hopeful for the future.

Confession #3: I've never dated a Christian.

Sub-confession: This terrifies me. When a great, Jesus-loving dude comes along, will I be able to date him well? I certainly know how to date wrong, and though I now have the wisdom to date right, I still question whether or not I can actually do it. What if old habits surface? I believe I am a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), and I'm continuously learning how to walk out this purified life. However, I falter almost daily, resorting back to words, reactions or thoughts the "old me" would have. How will my past affect my future spouse? Can bygones truly be bygones? I hope my man is compassionate and understanding that old wounds occasionally surface. I don't want to set myself up for failure, but I want to be realistic about the challenges I may face.

Confession #4: I sometimes wonder if it will ever happen.

Any single guy reading this (how many of you peep my blog?) might instinctively run in the opposite direction now that my lid is uncovered. Truth is, no one has run toward me in quite a while haha! This leads to questioning. When my dad asks how I think it will happen, I'm not so sure it will. I have a good heart and God loves me, so why am I approaching 29 with no prospect in sight? Maybe He has more work to do on me first. Maybe He has more work to do on my guy. I don't want pestering doubt to deflate my faith. My dating story is painful and embarrassing, but Jesus can make it honoring and beautiful.

Challenge: Be transparent with yourself (+ significant other if you have one), and pray about your hopes and fears in relationships. Confess to the Lord how you truly feel, and see what He reveals to you.

Monday, September 1, 2014

“You haven’t done it yet, because you know that when you do, you’ll have to surrender.”

She was right. I was scared.

My friend looked at me with compassion, knowing that spending time with the Lord can often be more intense than we expect.

On March 4, I visited Resting Place’s Prophecy Room. Several people, including myself, had signed up to receive prayer from volunteers/staff who knew nothing about us. The pray-ers asked God what He wanted to say and then shared His personalized words with each of us. In case we wanted to reference them in the future, or were too emotionally wrecked to really pay attention in the moment (I hovered in this arena), the pray-ers were kind enough to record our entire individual sessions.

It was one of the most incredible evenings of my life, one when God felt nearly tangible, as if He were sitting right in front of me. I made plans to write about it right away. But I didn’t.

I was so shocked (uncomfortable even) by God being so close to me, that I feared what could happen if He approached me with such intimacy again. The Lord had spoken to three ladies I never met, sharing with them the quiet details of my heart. I believed in prophecy beforehand, though it was made much more real to me that night.

I just listened to the recording for the first time, six months later.

There is so much truth, so much emotion steeped in what was said, that I’m not sure I can properly process it here. I’m only going to touch on a few points in this entry, though it’s clear that I should listen to the whole of it countless times in the future.

“He’s highlighting the arts. He sees that part in your heart that wants to create. He values that so much about you. Sometimes, it feels like maybe things don’t come out as great as you want them to. He still cherishes the small beginnings. He cherishes the effort. He’s encouraging you because He placed that inside of you for a reason. What you care about, He cares about.”

I started pursuing photography in January, and anyone who knows me or has seen my Facebook at any second of any day, knows that I absolutely adore it, to an unhealthy degree. There’s no doubt in my mind that God gave me the desire to create art through photography, though there are many doubts in my mind that I’ll ever be good enough to “really do it” as a career. To know that He cherishes my small beginning is to know that He’ll bless my growth. I wonder how He sees my future in photography. What will I shoot? Who will I meet? How will blessings flow out of it? Will this actually become my life, more than it already has?

“I see relationships, like family and friends and friends you consider family. Because you declare life over them, they’re going to receive life. Because you stand your ground and say, ‘My family shall live, my family shall not perish.’”

I was definitely moved when God wanted to speak about my love for art, and I was definitely wrecked when He went here. I love my family and friends so much that it pains me to see them walking without the Lord. I know that their salvation is as much their own choice as it is His, and I can’t bear the thought that I may not see them in Heaven someday. Even now, it hurts to see areas of their lives that could so easily and so quickly be healed by Jesus’ touch, if only they’d receive it. To think that my prayers and my heart could possibly lead them Christ is overwhelmingly powerful. Does God love me so much that He’d answer my prayer? Does He love them so much that He wouldn’t let them fall, no matter what?

“He is asking, ‘What do you want, Elyse? What’s in your heart? What’s your dream? Ask me.’”

I’d say no tissue could remedy my snotfest at this point. This is when He was more real than ever before. I don’t often tell Him what I want or ask Him to bless my dreams (heck, I’m not even sure I know what they are!), because I question whether or not my desires align with His. The fact that He cares about what I want seems so unlikely, coming from the Most High God. Aren’t there more important things to worry about in the world than what little ol' Elyse wants for her life? He might say, “There are many important things, and you are one of them.”

What do I want? I want a husband and children to love. I want to make people smile, with or without a camera in my hands. I want to learn more about photography and grow in my craft. I want to see my family happy and blessed. I want to make memories with my friends. I want to impact people’s hearts because they see Christ in me.

What’s in my heart? Hugging the hurting. Finding the lost. Surprising the lonely.

What’s my dream? Somehow living in balance with all of the above and keeping Jesus at the center. Having a relationship with Him that surpasses my imagination.

“Hallelujah! It’s time to rejoice again, to start laughing again, to start seeing His promises.”

I don’t rejoice enough. I don’t laugh enough. If I believe the Gospel, I should be doing both daily, without even thinking about it! The world is a cruel place, and I let it rob me of my joy. I need help with this.

“Open up your mouth, and declare His promises over your life.”

I admit that I haven’t read the Bible aside from a little daily devotion for months. I can’t declare His promises without knowing them! I just read aloud the verses highlighted for me in this prophesy session, and doing that felt powerful. I need reminders, and I need the desire to seek them out in the Word.

“Don’t compare, thinking that you’re not blessed. Look at what you have, and invest into it.”

This could relate to several thoughts – “Another friend just got engaged” or “Someone else is having a baby” or “My photography sucks compared to theirs.” They say comparison is the thief of joy, and I don’t avoid it enough. I have abundant blessings in my life and certainly want to invest in them.

“You give a timely gift. You give a perfect gift. It’s nothing extravagant, but it’s exactly what people need. You are their answered prayers. You have a generous, sensitive heart. You see the poor on the streets, and your heart aches for them because that is the kind of compassion that you carry. There is so much beauty that comes forth from the little things. It’s the little things that transform a life. It’s the little things that make people see that God is real. It’s not the shock and awe. It’s not the lighting and earthquake and fire. It’s the small answered prayers.”

I know tangible examples of when I’ve been an answered prayer for someone, and it’s crazy to think that God would use me in that way. In some cases, it’s been to the poor in the streets. I can no longer ignore what’s in front of me, and I love that the Holy Spirit stirs my heart to meet needs. I want more of those opportunities.

“The Lord is going to bring community to your life that is going to hold your hand, understand you and uplift you. Know who to listen to, use discernment and be wise. Search out for a prayer covering. Friends are called to war together. That’s how you know who your real friends are – they go to war with you.”

My friends constantly astound me. Their spirits are some of the purest I know, and I am so blessed to have them in my life. They’ve taught me what friendship really is, as referenced above, and I am forever grateful to the Lord for placing a seal on our connection. I truly need to listen to their voices (Him speaking through them) above my own, and I love when they correct me to do so!

“You eyes are finally on me, and I love it.”

This doesn’t seem true most days, as my eyes and mind flutter about countless things. But oh, how I want it to be true! This hit hard. It took years and years for my eyes to focus on Christ and say, “Wow, there you are!” He is a patient God. He is a loving God. I’m so thankful that He waited for me and continues to wait for me when I go astray. Seeking Him pleases Him, and my Father in Heaven being pleased by me is a wondrous, glorious thought.

“You were destined to be a woman of excellence. Other women will look to you as an example and see that there’s an excellence about you.”

What a word – excellence. It almost feels egotistical to desire it. How do you carry an air of excellence that doesn’t seem like an air of arrogance? Here I go, trying to put a negative spin on a word God gave to me! Must…fight...doubt. Truthfully, I would love to be a light to others and someone to look up to.

“Beauty is all over you. He’s writing it on you. What He says of you is your true identity. You are perfection from head to toe.”

I think we all have days when we don’t feel beautiful or handsome or worthy. I must remember that my identity is in Him, and I’m beautiful inside and out to Him despite my flaws and shortcomings.

I am forever grateful to Resting Place and the ladies who were willing vessels of God’s voice.

In closing, my tearful response to Daddy God after listening to the session:

You didn’t have to choose me, but I’m so glad you did.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

It's been a while since I've written a post on here.

It's a been a while since I've opened my Bible.

It's been a while since I've woken up in the morning and done nothing else before praising God.

And I know exactly why this is.

I've lost my spiritual discipline and done very little to get it back.

One of my prayers for a long time was, "Lord, please give me another Stars and Scars." S+S was a music magazine/concert promotion company I started when I was 16 and ran until I was almost 24. It was my life, quite literally. S+S lead me toward a Music Industry degree; internships and jobs at music venues, record companies, tv and radio; interviewing my favorite bands backstage and on tour buses; and organizing some of the most fun concerts that Middletown and Keansburg have ever seen.

I lived the dream for 8 years, and I did it as my own boss. Autonomy was challenging and beautiful. Not very lucrative, but that didn't matter! I was happy.

Since I closed Stars and Scars, I hadn't experienced "that feeling" again - the rush, the joy, the anticipation, the (if I'm being honest) obsession.

Until now.

Photography is what I think about day in and day out. Outside of my job at The Salvation Army, I'm my own boss again. Any free minute I have is spent watching tutorials, booking shoots, browsing for inspiration, editing sessions, reading articles...

God answered my prayer at His own expense. He's become #2.

How does one balance developing a God-given, heart-bursting passion with continuing to cultivate an undistracted relationship with Him?

I need to recalibrate.

I need to wake up and tap my Bible app before checking anything else. I need to sing songs of praise to Him. I need to pause and pray throughout each day. I need to make uninterrupted time to be in the Word. I need to not be a crazy person and fill every available moment with a photo shoot because I love it so much. I need to love Him more. I need to love Him well. I need to be more in touch with my friends and family and their needs. I need to stop making excuses for not going to church. I need to close my computer and put down my phone by a certain time every night, no matter how much I want to look at just one more thing. I need to be with Him before I go to sleep.

I need people who will hold me accountable for all of these things.

Stars and Scars was my #1, and He still blessed me, even though I wasn't walking with Him. Photography has become my #1, and He's still blessing me, even though I'm running ahead of Him.

God's goodness is overwhelming and unwarranted. I pray He helps me to recalibrate, to celebrate discipline, to find my rush, joy, anticipation and obsession in His love, first and always.

Monday, February 24, 2014

What do Aretha Franklin and Paramore have in common? Both perform songs that share the title of this post, and their lyrics resonate with me so much lately that I have to write about them. 

He's the kind of guy that would say 
Hey, baby, let's get away
Let's go some place, huh?
Well, I don't care
He's the kind of guy that you give your everything
You trust your heart, share all of your love
'Til death do you part

Yeah. I'd like that guy! If I find myself daydreaming, it's often about my future husband and the things we'll do together...even though I don't know who he is. Kinda weird to think happy thoughts about a faceless person (though I have my preferences - he almost always has horn-rimmed glasses and short, sometimes tousled, sometimes slicked back, dark hair). I entertain the ideas of day trips and weekend photo extravaganzas that I want to take, just not alone. It would be so wonderful to have an adventure partner. Someone who can balance out my "have to plan everything down to the smallest detail" self with spontaneous fun.

Living in a city of sleepless people
Who all know the limits and won't go too far outside the lines
Cause they're out of their minds

I wanna get out and build my own home
On a street where reality is not much different from dreams I've had
A dream is all I have

I dream of a not so far away place, where nature's majesty stretches out further than the eye can see. My own home is small, cozy and warm. Outside the lines and off the grid. Every day brings a promise of joy and excitement. We could walk, we could drive. It wouldn't matter. It would all be beautiful.

I just started crying after typing those last lines.

Maybe because they're so real in my heart and mind, but I can't touch them right now. I can't run through the fields and jump in the lake. I can't hold his hand.

My daydream, either parts of it or the whole sum, is being lived out by others, two in particular I can think of (one I know personally, one I don't). I want what they have. I admit it. I don't want to covet. It's just really hard.

I feel silly praying to God about my daydreamy desires. Are they unattainable? Are they not what He has for me? What if the life (and/or the man) I've dreamt up doesn't even compare to His plan? I suppose only time will tell. For now...

I'm gonna go
Where the rest of the dreamers go

And I'm thinking of you

Monday, February 10, 2014

I recently heard the Holy Spirit ask me, “Are you being faithful with what I’ve given you?”

This question, paired with a lot of tears, made me realize that God built a life for me in North Jersey, and I want to run from it. I want to be back home on the Jersey Shore, enjoying places and people I love, especially Shore Vineyard Church. My heart has been tied to SV since I first walked in about three years ago. I believe the church’s vision is spot on with Christ’s, and they walk it out so well.

Just the thought of membership at Shore Vineyard not being God’s will for me pierces my soul. It doesn’t make sense.

I feel the Holy Spirit’s presence more at SV than anywhere else (I literally felt His physical touch once!). I’ve grown as a child of God simply by being around the church. I’ve seen transformation in others and in myself. I’ve taken classes, attended retreats, cried on shoulders, supported missions and furiously scribbled notes on many a Sunday morning. Who I am today is largely due to the Spirit moving in SV. I’ve been amazed by the plethora of opportunities offered including Bible studies, food pantry, recovery group, Shore House of Prayer, youth group, classes, ladies and men’s ministries, outreach, fundraising, special events…There’s something to do every day, and I’m the kind of person who loves that!

My current schedule:

Mondays – Resting Place House of Prayer

Tuesdays – Volunteering at after-school program
Wednesdays – Ladies Bible study
Thursday – Volunteering at animal shelter
Weekends – Photo shoots, other events/fun stuff

The wonderful activities I’m involved in outside of work bring me much joy. They’re just all separate, not tied to one family, lacking a common thread.

If I was still at Shore Vineyard, my schedule might be:

Mondays – Sozo ladies Bible study

Tuesdays – Shore House of Prayer
Wednesdays – Groundswell youth group
Thursdays – SV connected ministry/class
Weekends – Photo shoots, Financial Peace, Drama Team, volunteering at kids church

I love community. I love what it means and being a part of it. While I am very grateful for the opportunities I have right now, I do feel a little wayward because I don’t have one family. Shore Vineyard will always be my family (not to mention my dad/stepmom actually go there!).

I started attending Hillsong Montclair, but I’m not sure if it’s the right church for me. Many of the activities are in NYC, which I successfully avoid at least 10 months out of the year, making connecting rather difficult.

I would like to find a church that I can throw my entire being into. I had one. He doesn’t want me there. Why??

I haven’t received a clear answer. He’s not obligated to give me one. I’m called to follow His lead whether or not it makes sense. But in the process, my heart hurts, and I know Jesus doesn’t want my heart to hurt.

What do you think? Has God facilitated changes in your life that don’t make sense? How did you deal with them, whether or not clarity eventually came?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I've had this post stirring in my head for about a week, and it was a sermon that solidified I should write it. You know the feeling you get, the rattle in your bones, the racing of your blood when you do something you absolutely love? For me, that experience comes when I'm spending time with youth and now, when I'm taking photos.

I've always loved photography. I retreated to the darkroom in college like I needed its solace just to survive. But for whatever reason, I abandoned it after graduating, save for the occasional smartphone capture.

We've had a Nikon D3200 at work for a year. Even as I got fired up to take photos at our camp over the summer, I never thought of reigniting my passion outside the office...Until November.

As the camera sat in its designated spot on my desk and collected dust, I decided to
start learning how to really use it again. All of my work photos were taken on Auto. I wanted to challenge myself to only shoot in Manual mode, so I would learn by my favorite device - trial and error.

I started a Pinterest account to keep track of helpful links, downloaded some "cheat cards" with suggested settings (which I actually have yet to reference!) and began shooting away. The spark I used to have in the darkroom returned immediately, even without using film, which I hope to in the future!

Now, as a photographer, I see things differently. Just like as a Christian, I see things differently than the way I had for 25 years. I sense God everywhere. I notice beauty everywhere. His grace is given to us at all times, and still, I want to capture a moment of it to remind myself, to remind us all, that He's present and visible.

The sermon referenced above included four relevant "D" words:


God deposited the gift of photography in me a long time ago, and even after reveling in it, I let it fade. But because His gift is crafted deep within me, it didn't actually disappear!

I just had to start digging to find it again. And I didn't even have to dig very far! All of two feet away from me where the Nikon sits. Then, it was my job (and will continue to be my job) to develop my gift. Just because God gave me the passion, it doesn't mean I'm an expert! I'm enrolling in photography courses both online and in the classroom. I've started to book sessions with models and friends (who are just as gorgeous as models, by the way!). I now follow advanced photographers for inspiration and mentoring.

All of these pieces and the trajectory they're on ultimately lead to...You guessed it: Destiny.

Several weeks ago, I had a meeting with Pastor Brett Conover of Shore Vineyard Church and his wife Maria. During our chat, Maria gave me a prophetic word. She described a hand coming down from above and picking me up. While suspended in the air, my feet were running wild, desperate to be on the move. As the hand placed me on a runway, I took off and became a plane with three A's on my tail wing. Maria asked God what the letters meant, and He answered, "Arise Anointed Art." She said I was flying into enemy territory with the utmost confidence in my artillery.

I've carried that prophecy with me since, praying it translates to photographic ministry. I can see myself taking photos for nonprofits, encouraging others to get involved in their missions. In fact, I'm already doing that! Both at work and now as a volunteer for Jersey Animal Coalition. Perhaps the Holy Spirit will fly this plane to other states or countries in the future.

My challenge now, after digging and starting to develop, is to not let God's gift overshadow God Himself. I've always been one to dive in headfirst (like when I started a company with an eight year run at age 16!) and invest countless, often sleepless, hours into my passion, to the neglect of other important matters. Truthfully, I've seen myself going this way a bit lately, as I scour Instagram and experiment with Photoshop during the times I would normally read or listen to a sermon. I'm fighting to not let my destiny slip away again and also to stay connected to the One who blesses it. This involves strategizing a plan of attack, an air raid of prayer, worship and study, all of which are bringing victory to my life!

Jesus is bigger and greater and more compassionate that I've ever known Him to be, now that I'm connecting with His creative calling for me. What do the four D's look like in your life? How has God anointed you, and how is He asking you to arise?

*Follow my photo adventures!
Website - http://www.elysejankowski.com
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/elysejankowskiphoto 
Instagram - http://www.instagram.com/elysejankowskiphoto
Flickr - http://www.flickr.com/photos/elysejankowski