I often am hesitant to share my life story as a narrative. Growing up in a southern christian culture, I am used to the routine of “sharing your testimony.” With each new group joined or sermon given by a guest speaker, I heard jaw dropping stories about suffering, endurance, and inspiring redemption despite all odds. The more I listened the more my story seemed to pale and become irrelevant. I began to worry that sharing my story would immediately write me off as a naive young woman coasting through the minor struggles of life. I frequently wondered why God would choose to place me on what seems to be an easier path than those around me. I still sometimes wonder that, but God has taught me a great deal through these insecurities.
First and foremost, my story is not for my glory; it’s for God’s glory. God is weaving this wonderful tapestry of life across the expanse of eternity. No one but Him can step back and look as the full picture unfolds. I do not know what string in that tapestry my life represents or how the tapestry would be affected if I were to not exist. I don’t know if I ever will know. But God is the the ultimate creator, and because of that I trust that my life, like everyone’s life, is needed in that tapestry to make it perfect and complete. However, since I am blissfully ignorant of how to weave eternity, all I can do is obey God’s command to know Him and make Him known.
Second, glorifying God with my story is never accomplished by comparing your story to others. Many people have heard the phrase, to compare is to despair. This is so true, but it doesn’t have to be. Comparison is so often an abused frame of thinking. God is the author and perfecter of every single story. So I can celebrate the diversity without deciding if there is a ‘better’ or a ‘worse’ because it all goes back to the same guy. To compare should be to see God’s glory everywhere! That being said, glorifying God in my story is only accomplished by focusing solely on me and God. Looking left and right coddles growth and causes me to sink. I am naturally inclined to press into God more if I fully appreciate what He is doing in me, His precious child.
Third, average is awesome. I absolutely love the story of Gideon in the Bible because he was the most average, boring person ever. When God sent his angel to tell Gideon that he was going to be used by God, Gideon’s response was basically, ‘Excuse me. Are you serious? Don’t you know how unqualified I am?’ Yet, God used him to lead an army against the Midianites change the coarse of the Israel. If you take a step back and look at all the other Biblical stories none of them really start with a qualified person doing what they are qualified to do. Because of this I can joyfully boast in all my weakness knowing that, as long as I am saying yes to God, He is going to take everything the world holds against me and use it to His strength. Although, He doesn’t always work in super obvious ways and most times He will wait for me to step outside of my comfort zone. So I suppose I could add on to this third lesson. Average is awesome as long as it occurs in a space outside of average (aka: God’s zone).
Now, finally, if you aren’t bored already from that introduction, here is my story:
I was born in Houston, Texas to April and Chris McAnany. We lived in Houston until I was around three and a half. Then we moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. While in Baton Rouge, my third and youngest brother, Micah, was born. The special thing about that, aside from having another human in the fam, was that I saw this really cool looking kid on Barney and decided to prayed for another little brother with curly hair to look like my Barney character. Silly though it was, it was the first time I remember praying really hard for something, and the first time God answered. Also during our time in Baton Rouge, my parents decided to homeschool us and I began to learn to read under my mom’s teaching. Then we moved to San Antonio.
This move to San Antonio started the longest, and mostly uneventful, chapter of my life. The house we moved into was across the street from a family who also homeschooled and also an older sister and younger brothers all around our same age. They quickly became an extension to our family. We spent most of our childhood days rushing through our school assignments so we could be out playing with one another as soon as possible. On somedays that were especially pretty our moms would cancel school and take us out to Eisenhower Park to go hiking. We did sports, like basketball, volleyball, and soccer, at our local YMCA during the school year and did swim team during the summer. We would have movie nights, trampoline games, bicycle rides, and stuffed animal stories.
When I was seven I realized that I needed to actually ask God to live in my heart. So I did. Although, at that point my faith mostly existed out of fear that I would end up in hell if I didn’t work to be the best little girl I could be. Shortly after I was baptized. Life continued on as normal.
When I was 12 I remember going through a lot of doubt. It was the first time I asked myself the question, ‘What is the point of living?’ Life seemed to be pretty pointless when I thought about it. Nothing I did would be remembered. I doubted there to even be a God. However, when I opened my Bible for answers (which I rarely did) I fell on Ecclesiastes. King Solomon knew exactly what I was feeling. His words made me content in accepting that there is a time for everything and God is God. Life continued as normal.
A little while later, when I was 13, I read a book called, Journey of Hope, by Lurlene McDaniel. The book describes the fictional story of a girl who volunteers to serve for six months on a medical mission ship that takes health care to developing countries. I knew immediately that I wanted to do exactly that. I felt a calling and began praying that God would fulfill that calling. However, knowing that it would be a long, long time before I would be able to do anything like that, life continued as normal while my passion for international and health care missions grew.
After my freshman year of high school I decided that I wanted to go into a public high school. My faith in God was not strong, but I did feel like I was being told to go to school. I also wanted to have the full experience of school, since everyone talked about their high school experience. I was a exceptionally shy kid. Being homeschooled had not forced me outside of my social comfort zone very often. This made going to a public high school very difficult. I joined the cross country team my first year to try to gain some friends. At that point most of my peers had been going to the same school since elementary school and had their set friendships. I existed on the outskirts, acknowledged but not really accepted. As my first year in a school system got close to ending, I became increasingly desperate to find my place. Applications came out for student counsel and I decided to apply, praying, ‘God if I did the right thing in coming to this school, allow me to be accepted.’ I was accepted for the next year.
Summer started and I began to get involved in the youth group at our church. Because I was so painfully introverted, I had never really connected with anyone at our church, despite the fact that my family had been attending there for the past 9 or so years. I was always aware of my awkward shy personality, but since I had my best friend across the street and a few other close friends who I would see during the week, I was never confronted with it in a crowd of strangers on a daily basis until going to school. Coming out of that school year I felt disgusted with myself for not being able to break out of my shell and create new friendships. My best friend had also gone to school at a private high school and my other friends moved away. I was alone. That is why I made an effort to get involved at church as soon as got my drivers license that summer. One of the girls in my Sunday school started to take an interest in forming a friendship with me before we left for the youth summer camp. I was so thankful to have one person take an interest that I began to cling to her friendship.
Camp that summer was the first camp I had ever been to. I roomed with my newly formed friend and another girl who I also started to become friends with. I was surprised to find that I was feeling a little bit more comfortable in the crowd. The speaker that year spoke about the story of the prodigal son. Listening to him speak and being immersed in such a strongly God focused community for one week caused me to truly experience the physical feeling of God’s presence for the first time in my life. I was surprised to actually feel him. As the week moved on it began to change the way I thought about my faith and the way I did my faith. I began to journal to God that week and I keep that discipline to this day. However, one of the last few days of camp I was noticed by one of the guys in the youth group. That too was a completely new feeling, to be noticed by somebody who was actually pretty ‘popular’ so to speak. I traveled home focusing more on my crush than what I had learned. About a month and a half later he told me that he didn’t want to hang out with me anymore. As a teen girl, I was devastated and attributed that result to all my insecurities.
As school started up again, I was in the student counsel, cross country and I signed up to be a trainer for the football team. I kept myself busy to help ignore the fact that the only friend I had was the friend from youth group who I roomed with at camp. I became depressed because I continued to feel alone and trapped by my personality. I began to think that if I began to bend and break the rules I would be more appealing to my peers and I would learn how to be outgoing. Surprisingly, my youth group friend was the perfect avenue for that. Her family attended church more for the social aspect than anything else. I would go over to her house hang out. Nothing was out of the ordinary, but conversation would be filled with gossip and encouragement for manipulating the truth to get what I wanted. Occasionally I would go out with her and some other people to get hookah without my parents permission. Once or twice I had a drinking night with them. Under that influence and my own desperation for acceptance I began to lie to my parents about what I would be doing when I went out. I was found out when I tried to sneak out to a party with my youth group friend and I told my best friend across the street, who told her mom, who told my mom. My parents shut me down completely and cut off all connection from my youth group friend. Being cut off from my only friend and having non-stop tension with my parents continued my depression. To entertain myself and do the last thing I could to rebel from my parents, I started to date a boy the last two months of my junior year. Although we never crossed the line, our relationship was mostly physical. It opened the door to a whole new world of sin for me in the for of lust, that, if I am being totally honest, I sometimes still struggle with today. Junior year ended with me broken in more outside sin and self resentment than I had ever had before. I was angry at God for the isolation.
Summer began and I went to camp again. I avoided all teaching. I didn’t care. I hated God. The week passed and for some reason the second to last day I ended up journaling to God exactly how I felt to God. I threw cuss words at him and resentment and hate and for some reason I felt a huge peace afterward. That night we had a testimony time. Several of our peers stood up and were totally open about their struggle with suicidal thoughts, self harm, self hate, and everything else that caused life to be so hard. One story in particular caused me to break down in tears and change my attitude. My friend got up and shared about her experience of having her best friend and sister raped and then having it happen to herself as well. I realized that I was an idiot to think that my story of isolation was to hard to survive and a good reason to walk away from God. I left camp convicted.
Going into senior I had begun to meet with our new youth associate pastor for the girls. She was a college student at UTSA and loved us so well. I felt comfortable with her. She had me start going through different devotionals with her. One in particular finally changed my relationship with God in a way that changed my whole lifestyle. It is called, What Are You Waiting For?, by Dannah Gresh. In that book Gresh talked about the meaning of the word ‘yada.’ Yada- an all encompassing love that describes how God loves me. It’s a love that includes the way a father loves a child, the way a friend loves his best friend, the way a husband loves his wife, and all the loves in between. I don’t know why, but the description of God’s deep intimacy with us in that way was the key that unlocked my door to Him. I began to understand why people craved God. I began to crave God. I started to enjoy talking with Him and listening to Him. As I did I began to open up a little. I felt happier. I began to have solid friendships at church and a few good friendships at school. As I began to think about the future beyond senior year of high school, I was ready to walk with God in the center of my life.
I had no idea where I wanted to go to college. All I knew was that I wanted to be a nurse because I still had a passion for international medical missions. Remember? I prayed harder about the college decision harder than any other decision I had ever made in my life. I applied to Baylor, UNC, OU, ACU, and Duke. I was rejected by Duke pretty quickly. I was accepted by Baylor over text message in seventh period one day. I was accepted by ACU. By the time the spring rolled around, I had also been accepted by OU, but was waiting to hear from UNC, which was the university I really wanted to go. My mom and I planned a road trip to the three universities that had accepted me. I was determined to go to OU. Everyone at my church went to Baylor and I hated hearing all about Baylor all the time. I also thought it was too close to home, three hours. However, to humor my mother and grandmother I agreed to visit Baylor as well. It was the first stop on our trip. As we walked into the visitor’s center my name just happened to be on the screen reading, ‘Welcome, Abby McAnany.’ “It’s a sign!” My mother exclaimed. I rolled my eyes and tried not to be to impressed for the rest of the visit. The visit was undeniably good though. Everyone was very welcoming and I got to see a few of my friends who were there as freshmen. The next day we visited OU. It was a drastic difference. It was their spring break, so we couldn’t get a feel for the student body. All we could feel was the attitude of the visitor’s center. I felt like a number again. I was disappointed to feel like it was a much bigger version of high school. Still though I stuck to my guns that I did not want to go to Baylor. Visiting ACU, I and my mom knew I would not end up there because it was too small for my taste. As we had lunch before leaving Abilene my mom suggested that we drive to Dallas before going home to visit the Baylor nursing school. I was up for the spontaneous extension to our adventure. We hit the road and arrived at the Baylor University Medical Center mid afternoon on Sunday. We rang the doorbell on the nursing school door. A woman came up and opened the door and asked if she could help. We told her that we were a potential student and wanted to tour the school. She told us that the school was actually closed at that moment but they happened to be having an alumni lunch. She invited us in to meet the alumni, who willingly answered all our questions and gave us a tour of the building. They also spoke about how the graduate students had just gotten back from a medical mission to Ethiopia. That sparked my interest. There was much mixed emotion in the days following our return. I ended up choosing Baylor. God doesn’t let us believe in coincidences as christians.
In addition to the college decision that senior spring, God also brought an other influential friend to me in the Anatomy class I was taking. I had started eating my lunch with alone in the student counsel room everyday because I didn’t have any friends during lunch and I liked being around the student counsel teacher. One day as I was eating lunch my teacher left the room and I continued with my lunch and studies. A girl who I knew from my anatomy class walked in to return a radio that her teacher had borrowed from my teacher. When she lingered, I asked her if there was anything else. She opened up and admitted that she might be pregnant and she just needed some support. There wasn’t much that I could do besides be there. So I started to hang out with her a little bit. She found out that she wasn’t pregnant, which was a relief. I invited her to the D-now retreat the youth group was having. She readily agreed. That weekend she gave her life to Christ. It was incredible to see how God was able to use me and those around me as a tool for his work. I remembered how I had felt called to high school. Through all the struggle, God had used my presence to help bring His glory in her story.
Freshman year at Baylor was one of the most amazing years up to that point in my life. Two of my youth group buddies had been randomly placed in the dorm room right next to mine in Collins, a residence hall with about 300 rooms! I also had incredible roommates who God placed in my life. All was going well. Spring semester I took Dr. Taylor’s anatomy class. I struggled through it. I ended up with a grade just short of passing and realized that I would have to retake the class in the fall. It was a huge blow to my pride. It was done though. So I sucked up my pride and headed out for the summer.
That summer I worked at Kanakuk Kamps. After Kanakuk I went on my first international trip with the Baylor missions to Athens, Greece. Nothing compares to the feeling of traveling to a new place. I remember getting butterflies when landing. I made incredible friends there and I still have many of them.
Sophomore year at Baylor I served as a Community Leader in Collins on the sixth floor. That position taught me a lot about being a missionary where you are. Coming back from Greece, my passion for missions was at an all time high. God used that teach me about being mission minded in every place I found myself. This place just happened to have a very structured formatted mission, which I was thankful for.
Spring semester of sophomore year I found myself overloaded and ended up not passing Microbiology and French 2. Not only was my self confidence shaken but also my self worth. I had always leaned on my grades to fall on when I failed social in high school. Although at that point I had an over abundance of close friendships, I still felt that somehow I had failed to have any sort of worth since I was having to retake two more classes. In my ardent prayers for understanding, God asked me the simple question, ‘Do you trust me?’ He was challenging me to trust in the value He placed in me. He was also challenging me to trust that He would lead me down the path I needed to gain success. I can’t say it came easy to do that, but I began reframing my mind to trust Him like He was asking. He has continued to ask me to trust Him over and over and over as college has progressed beyond that point.
That summer I got to go to Poland with my church in San Antonio for a couple hundred dollars. I had asked God upon my return from Greece the previous year to provide me with another opportunity to go serve over seas, but for a cheap price since I had no money. Our church in San Antonio covered majority the cost of the trip for any college student willing to go. My passion for international missions and the desire to volunteer on the medical mission ships with YWAM continued to grow exponentially. I held fast to the calling God gave me when I was 13.
One more semester in Waco proved to be so restful. I had extra time to dive into God and love him richer than ever before. It was short but it was a refreshing season before moving up to Dallas to go to the nursing school.
I moved up to Dallas to the apartment where I am now with the roommates I live with now. I didn’t know them but I prayed so hard that God would give me good roommates. He answered that prayer so well. As our relationships have developed, I have been reminded of how faithful God is always. The first semester of nursing school was hard but I got through it.
That summer, last summer, I went on my first medical mission trip with the nursing school to Hong Kong and Vietnam with the faculty member who developed the Ethiopia mission trip that was talked about when I first stood in the nursing school four years ago. Also that summer my best friend from across the street when we were homeschooled moved in with me for the summer. I started a job at a coffee shop where a bunch of awesome mission minded people work.
God was obviously at work in my life as He always had been. I asked him for a way to be a missionary in Dallas. I hadn’t volunteered or really served in anyway since my CL job and I wanted Him to use me in a structured way again. He told me to go on a media fast. So I only listened to Christian music and watched Christian movies for 30 days. During that time I had made a list of potential volunteer opportunities. I set out one Friday determined to visit the different places on my list to help me decide where to invest. Twenty minutes after I left my house I realized my phone was about to die and I didn’t have a charger, which meant I wouldn’t have a GPS to get to the various places on my list. I visited one or two then had to return home. A little distraught, I asked that God would still make my afternoon productive. I settled for researching the different volunteer opportunities while watching another corny christian movie. The movie that I started playing was called Kamp. It was about a camp for foster kids. I loved it. As the credits started rolling, information came up about volunteering at a camp like the one in the movie. I looked it up and found one based out of Arlington just south of Dallas. I emailed the director, who responded quicker than any of the other persons I had emailed about volunteer opportunities. I met with her and her husband for an interview a week or two later and was accepted to volunteer at the camp. It was nerve racking because I knew no one and I’m still shy. I got on the bus and went to camp any way though. I got to know the kiddos and all sorts of awesome people volunteering. I found out that one my close friends from Baylor’s aunt and cousin were working at the camp as well. My close friend and her whole family go to the church that sponsors the camp. When I got home I called my friend up and we got lunch. She had started working as a CPS caseworker since graduating from Baylor and knew a good deal more than I did about the foster care system. I asked her if there was any way for a 21 year old, single, nursing student to help in the foster care system. She told me about being a CASA or a Court Appointed Special Advocate. This volunteer program is set up to provide kids who have an open CPS court case with an advocate who can insure that they are getting their needs met. So I applied and interviewed and got accepted to start the 30 hour training program. However, at this time school was about to start up again and I had absolutely no time in my schedule to start such an intensive training program. So it got put off.
The first week of last semester, the chaplain at the nursing school approached me and asked me to help in starting a ministry for the international students at the nursing school. I was a little hesitant at first, but God has given me a passion for missions and I had been searching for a way to continue the mission that I had gone on to Hong Kong and Vietnam so my hesitance lasted all of five minutes. It’s been a struggle. Getting stressed out nursing students to participate in extracurricular activities is not that easy. I have divided the international ministry up into two segments, Cultural Community (for the students physically at the nursing school who are from a different country) and Cultural Connections (for the student body at the nursing school to connect online with students at our international partner schools in Hong Kong, Vietnam, and hopefully others soon). I have just now, in March begun to see some growth since last August. One really really cool thing though is that one of my friends from my Greece trip almost three years ago moved to London to be a nurse there. This summer one of our faculty members is taking some of our students over there for a study abroad. I asked her to connect with my friend from Greece. She agreed. It is cool to see how God is beginning to interweave the different missions He has called me to.
Also last semester I felt like God was telling me that after 8 years of waiting it was time to apply to go volunteer on a medical mission ship with YWAM. So I did. They spent several months looking over my application. Because of my school schedule there is only one specific outreach out of their six outreaches that I can do. Although they had more open space on other outreaches, they worked to accommodate my schedule. They let me know last month that I had been accepted. I applied for my visa to Papua New Guinea and got it without any problems. Right now I am working with a travel agent to find flights to where I need to be. It’s been very challenging since the ship is docked in such a remote place. It also is going to be very expensive to get a flight there, which brings me to another way God has blessed me.
I failed a one of my classes last semester, Pathophysiology and Pharmacology 2. I was two questions short on the final exam for passing the class. Of coarse, my pride was hurt a little again. But God asked me again, ‘Do you trust me?’ I really do. He hasn’t lead me astray. I am so confident and at peace that he is using this failed class to lead me to where He wants me to be. Besides, like Gideon, my weakness proves His strength and brings about more glory for Him.
Anyway the reason that it has been a blessing as far as YWAM is that I was able to easily get a job as a tech on a Bone Marrow Transplant Unit in the Baylor Hospital. The extra money in addition to some of my family’s financial support, will help me in covering my living expenses so I can use my loan money to pay for this mission I’ve felt so called to for so much of my life.
Because you have to pass all the classes in each semester of nursing school before moving on to the next semester, I can only take two classes this semester, the Patho/Pharm 2 and Perioperative Nursing, an elective class. This amounts to 6 hours. The extra time I have has allowed me to complete the 30 hour training for CASA. I got sworn in a couple weeks ago and will hopefully start advocating for a child this summer.
In addition to all this God has also opened the door to yet another ministry!! Over the winter break I was talking to a friend and I told him about how homelessness has always bothered me. I’ve always wanted to about it, but with such a busy schedule and limited finances I had no idea how. I came back to school with this in the back of my mind. Each semester at the nursing school we come together as a student body and faculty and have a convocation. This is a time for us all to worship as a school together and step into the semester united. The speaker at convocation this semester is named Susie Jennings. She shared her testimony and how it led her to start Operation Care International, an organization dedicated to serving homelessness and the poor. I was inspired by her story and wanted the opportunity to serve with her maybe. A few days later that opportunity arose. We got an email from her secretary saying that we had the opportunity to serve with her at Union Gospel Mission the next Saturday. I had plans that night, but as christians we aren’t allowed to believe in coincidences. I canceled my plans and went to serve. It was not unlike other times I served. It was nice but not out of the ordinary. However, one of my other nursing friends brought two of her guy friends. I started talking to them and found out that they go to a church every Sunday called West End. I knew that my friend volunteered at West End but I didn’t realize that it was a church. I wasn’t to crazy about the church I had been attending so I decided to try West End the next morning. I road there with my friend and was forced to go up to people, strangers, in an informal way and talk to them. I’ve gotten a little better at this, but I’m still shy. It was uncomfortable at first but fulfilling. The people on the street have the most incredible stories. I started going to West End regularly. I’m beginning to walk along side other young people in Dallas who love God. They are not passive christians. They are willing to radically engage the Gospel to bring revival in this city. I am learning so much from them.
So that’s pretty much where I am now. Like I said my story isn’t that out of the ordinary. (In fact if you got this far, I’m really impressed. Thank you for taking the time!) God’s handiwork in my life is what makes me share my story. It is for His glory not mine. I don’t wish my story to be something to be an object of comparison because God is just as alive and active in other people as He is in me, sometimes even when they don’t know it. I also am so happy to be average. It makes it easier to see the reality of God’s work. So there it is! I hope it’s been an encouragement because that was a whole heck of a lot of typing!