Why I Stayed in Orlando

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Not a lot of people that truly know the current version of myself were around to meet the 8-year-old version of myself, but to be perfectly honest, we’re not all that different. I am still the same loud, chatty girl who sleeps with a stuffed dog and vies for attention as often as possible. We eat slightly differently, but if you put some chocolate chip cookies in front of me right now I’d probably still ask for cool whip to dip ’em in. I have attempted at going by “Katelyn” to distinguish adult me perhaps even a little, but the attempt was futile. It seems “Katie” is sticking.

But I know that if I somehow found a way to meet 8-year-old me, she’d be incredibly disappointed to meet me. “Wait. I didn’t become a professional writer? I NEVER moved to New York?! I don’t eat Taco Bell whenever I want?!” I can just hear the let-down I’ve become to that little freckle-faced, chubby child! All those hours spent writing short stories with gel pens, and for what? To live only an HOUR away from Lakeland? The town that stifled my creativity and offered me nothing more interesting to do than skim board in a retention pond on the weekends and play some fairly uncompetitive league soccer?

Well. I’m sick of listening to the younger version of myself chastise my life choices. So. Curly Katie, if you could please sit still just a moment- I will explain to you how much better your life can be than the dreams you’ve formed from watching too much TV.

I LOVED reading and writing when I was younger. I believe I’ve already mentioned the amazing attention I garnered from my third-grade hit of a short story called “Johnny Finkle” I thoroughly enjoyed getting attention as a child, in every arena of my life, but for telling good stories? I was addicted. I knew I wanted to do it always. I wanted to create stories that people loved because, honestly, that probably equated to them loving me too, right?

As I grew into a teenager, some dreams started to develop.

1. Playwright. My brother was acting in plays, so naturally I thought it would be fun to act in one someday. The drama club in the 8th grade kinda fulfilled that thirst early on. I had my eyes on writing one. I viewed it as the ultimate level of receiving affirmation–sure the actors did good, direction was okay, whatever whatever- but WHAT would the play have been without the writer?!

2. Book reviewer. I started intentionally reading the little reviews in the front of the books I was reading both before and after I finished the book. I started to grow a relationship with these reviewers–some of them shaped the way I viewed a beloved piece of fiction! What power! I had to have it.

3. Playwrights and book reviewers lived in New York. It was settled. I was going to live there too.

I had made up my mind-there was no need to think or look any further. I knew where I was going and what I was going to be. I was maybe 13? But guys. I KNEW, OKAY?!

Probably goes without saying that I had no idea. A lot of things have surprised me about my life since I was 13–the friends I’ve lost, the ones I’ve gained, the fact that Florence, AL is even a place on my radar. But easily, without question, the most surprising thing to me still is the fact that no matter how much I ran from Him, pushed Him away, avoided His presence, scoffed at His followers, mocked His word and turned my back on His arms–my Savior got hold of my heart.

“WAIT. You got religious and gave up on all of our dreams?!”

Oh, dear. It seems I’ve let my younger self down again. Let me take the quickest minute to tell you something–you’ll love this part.

During our senior year of high-school, we wrote a play. It’s all about being an original–being a little weird, a little quirky, but being yourself without being stupid about it. We fill it with so many inside jokes, so many references to things we love and think are awesome. It get’s chosen to be performed! Two of our best friends act in it, and people come and they watch it and they laugh and they think it’s funny and they love it. And they know that WE wrote it.

We get to college and we’re surrounded by all of these kind of annoying English majors, we miss theatre a lot and we’re kinda broke. It wasn’t great. But Mom helps out and introduces us to this guy Kevin who worked at The Tampa Tribune with her. Listen up–we get to write book reviews. For money. We get paid to read books and write our opinions about them and these reviews are being published! Our name is in the paper and on websites–we can google ourself now! One day we open up a book we’ve reviewed and flip to the front cover, and there we are. Words we say about a book will shape the way someone views a piece of fiction.

You didn’t give up on any dream, sweetheart. You achieved your dreams. You lived your dreams. And then you got new ones.

This is what I tell people that I meet through my job that ask me about how I came to be a Marketing Associate at a nonprofit called Health Care Center for the Homeless in Orlando, FL.

I interned a couple years ago because one of my moms best friend’s had a connection and knew I needed an internship for the summer. I was an English Major with a minor in Magazine Journalism–I had every intent of graduating college and moving to New York and working at Entertainment Weekly. But these guys needed someone that could write and help with their promotional video, so I did–I had the skills that they were looking for and I knew it. But to me– it was just something to put on my resume.

Man. These people–the ones I worked for, worked alongside and worked to help–they started to inspire me in a really unexpected way. I poured so much energy and attention and passion into my work that summer. I saw God at work every day in that place. And why wouldn’t I? “You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, so that mere earthly mortals will never again strike terror.” -Psalm 10: 17-18. God cares for the poor and oppressed. You don’t have to look hard in the Bible to find that truth.

I still had two years left of college. My plans hadn’t changed. I was still writing book reviews, still obsessing over feature stories for class and had two amazing internships for local magazines. I was doing what I loved my junior and senior year of school. That last semester of senior year was huge. I had overcome pathological sin that had plagued me since I was a kid, I went to Africa to share the Gospel that changed everything I knew and I was about to be catapulted out into the world. New York, right? To be a book reviewer, right? That’s what you went to school for. I mean. That’s why you read all those books even when they were terrible, that’s why you spent so much time learning AP Style, that’s what you’ve been telling everyone{everyone} that you were going to do for years.

So what’s the problem?

Your Savior got hold of your heart. And it was far from a problem.

He changed you and He wants different for you and there’s something He needs you to do. Sorry. You’re not going anywhere ’til He calls you to do so.

He’s writing your story, not you. He deserves the praise, not you. And I know that’s hard for you, you attention-seeking little girl, but you’re going to grow up one day. You’re going to learn about God and His glory and His beautiful, amazing, catches-you-off-guard, takes-your-breath-away, brings-you-to-tears Grace.

Your priorities are going to change. Let them. Let God continue to change you from the inside out. He’s got a better life in store for you than what you had in mind, trust me, I promise-I know.

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