Soul Food {August 2016}

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This month has been one full of changes and transitions, but I know it’s all working toward the positive, so I am (slowly) learning to open my arms to it instead of walling myself up. Here are some of the things I’ve been taking with me.

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  • Philip Serino’s renditions of “All Love Can Be” and “Annie’s Song.” This month I could be found lying on my bedroom floor, soaking these in. Stunning in every way.
  • Spencer Kane and Alexis Slifer’s cover of “This Is Living.” The arrangement and their voices are so lovely. Ten times better than the original.
  • The Gray Havens’ “Ghost of a King” album. They make such special music; it’s lovely, it’s dynamic, and they put so much thought and meaning into their lyrics. Sometimes it almost feels like reading the Chronicles of Narnia. My absolute favorite from the album is “At Last, The King.” I also like “Take This Slowly” “Diamonds and Gold” and “Go.”
  • Heath McNease’s “Who Knows? Who Cares?” album. Honest, real, hopeful, thoughtful. I love how he can marry chill sound with hip-hop so seamlessly. My favorite from it has to be the title track, but I also love “Wide-Eyed Skeleton.”
  • “Top of The World” by Anthem Lights. Super fun. Also, I know it’s like two years old, but I didn’t know about it back then, okay?!
  • The sped-up version of Fifth Harmony’s cover of “Red.” [Complicated enough?] I heard a snippet of this on a video and searched the internet until I found the whole thing. There’s just something lovely and heart-wrenching about it for me.
  • “Dive Deep” by Andrew Belle. I’ve loved his work, so of course his new single would be fantastic to me, too. Stuck in my head and sung under my breath often.
  • “The Man” by Aloe Blacc. I have to dance when I hear this. Have to. “Been through the worst but I still give my best; God made my mold different from the rest, then He broke that mold so I know I’m blessed.”

If you want to listen to all this music in one place, I’ve got a playlist for you! All of my music recommendations from this year are there, but if you want only this month’s you can scroll to near the bottom.

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  • This stupid clip oh my gosh! I mostly use my “watch later” list on YouTube as a place to put music I’m not sure belongs to a playlist yet, but I put this there because someone sent it to me and I truly did intend to watch it later. It now interjects a playlist otherwise made of music, and makes me laugh way too hard to want to remove it. It seriously surprises me every time.
  • The videos that the New Age Creators have been putting on Soul Pancake. These young adults make such thoughtful, heartfelt content and it’s been a joy to see what they want to talk about, whether it’s happiness, travel, creativity, passion, insecurity, learning a second language, anxiety, being a grown-up (possibly my favorite), or the internet.
  • Ben Rector’s music video for his song “Brand New.” I already really liked the song, and the fact that he spent his music video budget on a trip to Six Flags makes it that much better.
  • This video from Twitter. I cried laughing. “Ya’ll mind if I praise God?”
  • Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Dinner Party. This comedy webseries about a gathering of classic writers has been long-anticipated, and it’s finally here! It’s an eleven-part series and only two episodes are out right now so I can’t give much of an opinion yet, but so far I think it is so funny, as well as just a well-written, visually gorgeous piece. Clayton Snyder (freaking Ethan Craft!) as Dostoevsky is everything.
  • “Singing Without Sound,” a short glimpse into the life and methods of singer/songwriter Mandy Harvey, who lost her hearing. Music is my passion so losing my hearing is a terrifying thought, but she has lived it and risen so high above it. And she makes such lovely music.
  • “HOW IT’S MADE: Christian Music.” Hilarious and too real.
  • Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. Because it’s one of my favorite films and I’m thankful to Gene Wilder for bringing so much magic to it.

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  • “This Is the Cure for Awkwardness, If You Are Awkward, Which I Am Sometimes, and You Might Be Too. Sometimes” by Nika Maples. I love this. “We would be surprised what God would call good, if you and I brought it to Him and thanked Him for it.”
  • “How to Catch a Falling Star: An Adoption Story” by Ann Voskamp. The way she found herself in her new daughter… and finds all of us in the process… wildly moving. Tears showed up for me.
  • Deborah Apy’s retelling of “Beauty and The Beast.” It’s a picture book, but it’s almost like it was made for grown-ups to enjoy. The language is beautiful, and I think it’s a lovely, well-focused version of the story. A true fairytale.
  • “Spiritual Warfare In The Better Covenant” by Jonathan Welton. So interesting and groundbreaking. I personally have seen people become so much more alive and powerful in the most healthy, humble ways because they decided to accept the authority Christ has given them, stop giving the enemy such attention in their life, and walk in truth with themselves.
  • “Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway” by Susan Jeffers. So impactful for me. A few parts of the book are a bit out there, but so much of it is transformative truth about our abilities to make good choices, be in control of ourselves, and handle whatever we face. I so recommend it. [Psst, I review all my books on Goodreads if you’re into that!]
  • Joshua Harris’ apology for “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” This is huge. I feel bad that people have been rudely outspoken with him, but I still teared up reading this because I never expected him to recant what he’d written to millions of people. He has gained a lot of respect from me, and forgiveness I didn’t know I needed to give him. Thankful.

When Peace Doesn’t Feel Close (A Climax in My Anxiety Story)

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Their words had become daggers; I felt them in my chest, poking at my insecurities and fears. My lugs then began to empty of their air. The anxiety that was so familiar to me and that had been lurking behind me every day squeezed my lungs to increase the pang of the sharp wounds I was now hosting. I got alone just in time for my surroundings to become hazy and foreign, despite how truly familiar they were. I couldn’t sit down or stand still; I paced in the smallest possible circles, tension radiating throughout my body and spirit.

I wanted so badly to cry. So much had been going on inside and around me, and I knew I needed to release some of the pain I’d gathered from it. But the tears wouldn’t come.

I began singing His words.

[Listen]

I’m right beside you
I feel what you feel
And I’m here to hold you
When death is too real
You know I died, too
I was terrified
I gave myself for you
I was crucified
Because I love you
I love you, child

My voice broke a few lines in, and tears poured out of the cracks.

I stood still, arms around myself, weeping and releasing, praying that I would never let go of my grasp on those words.

flower walk, feet and potAs I stood and as the drops trailed down, I began to feel a tingling, tickling feeling in my feet at the base of my toes. It stretched further into my feet, then began slowly climbing through my legs. It reached the tops of my knees and remained there. Amongst my shaky, irregular sob-breathing, I heard a quiet whisper:

Shoes of peace.

I continued to cry, sinking into His closeness.

Anxiety and brokenness will never have the final say for me. Not when everywhere I walk, I genuinely carry peace with me in a physical way.

Spiritual armor is not a metaphor.

I didn’t understand it before. But then my Father physically placed these shoes on my feet. I felt Him do it, and He called them by their name. [I don’t believe everyone needs to have the same experience I had in order to put on their spiritual armor; it is available to all of us and He shows no partiality. I think He just knew what I needed in order to understand.]

The shoes of peace have become true and functional for me. Peace protects me from succumbing to what scares me and letting anxiety overtake my life; peace pushes me forward when I don’t feel like I can move; peace is His mark lovingly imprinted on me, like a forehead kiss. He has enabled me to be strong, to be powerful, to live in courage instead of fear. It is possible for me.

I didn’t know that before. I thought I would have to live with anxiety and the paralysis it can cause for the rest of my life. Now… now I have hope that it will get better. That it won’t always be as hard to overcome as it is right now. That anxiety is a lot smaller and a lot less powerful than I’ve made it out to be.

Anxiety is still something I face. But when I feel the fear creeping near to put its hands to my neck– I now try to remind myself of the reality of what I’m wearing on my feet.

And I choose to stand firm in the peace that is already mine to possess.

On Stewardship, Speculation, & Love’s Pursuits

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“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5).

art drawerThese words are important, and it matters that we understand why they were penned.

We can read in Acts 20 (particularly verses 29-35) that pretty much from the beginning of his work in Ephesus, Paul was aware that the people there would experience and be tempted by false teachings, and that these teachings would be birthed from their own church– from them. He made sure to spend a good amount of time (three whole years) with them, teaching them that the truth and reality of grace had to be the source of their work and the way they treated each other, because from it they would be built up and brought into their inheritance.

About a decade after Paul left Ephesus, he sent this letter to Timothy, whom he had commissioned to oversee churches that were having trouble, including the one in Ephesus. Paul knew the false teachings he’d predicted had indeed come into the church. And he told Timothy:

“As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculation rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” (1:3-4)

Speculation rather than stewardship. That is where the false teachings came from.

In their attempt to sharpen their minds, the Ephesians lost their focus. They forgot that the goal of everything they were called to was love; that instead of having to spend their energy discussing what-ifs and finer details, they had been given something substantial, something they were supposed to take care of and use: they carried grace in their chests. And that grace, even with unanswered questions, was enough to live a full life.

They didn’t need to speculate anymore– they already had something to steward.

It was neglecting that stewardship that brought about the issues the church was facing. After Paul reminded Timothy of their mission of love and what it’s fueled by, he said: “Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” (1:6-7)

These false teachers were not necessarily menacing. They sought to be knowledgeable and to share what they found; they probably believed what they were saying. But they left out the true goal of the church: using love to spread the reality grace. They weren’t pursuing the mission. They lacked love’s pure heart and good conscience and sincere faith, so regardless of how many sources they searched and how many discussions they had, they could not reach understanding; they could only make assertions about the things they found in the endless process (things Paul recognized as myths and loose interpretations). These people were not rooted in love’s pursuits, so they could not find the answers, because love was what held them. What they needed was already in their possession– but they deemed their pursuit of finer theology more important.

We are so much like them.

We can have our questions and curiosities, and we can and should grow in our theology. But we cannot forget what our constant and consuming mission is, what demands our attention and our energy. When our focus shifts from pursuing love to pursuing ideas, we trade in stewardship for speculation; we lose something. With a focus of love, fueled by a pure heart and good conscience and sincere faith, we have what we need; we have the reality of grace, and it builds us up and brings us into our inheritance. Everything we need comes from grace, from Him. We are not lacking.

We cannot be so enamored by speculation that we forsake our stewardship. We have been charged with the spread of love and grace; neglecting that charge is not only foolish and disobedient, but it is destructive for us and for all who cross our path, because our theology always becomes our actions. We teach our ideas, with our words and by our example, every single day, even if we don’t intend to. And if our ideas are untrue, we become false teachers, instead of stewards of God’s deepest truth– the truth that He loves and has grace for us. If our theology isn’t rooted in love, our actions aren’t either.

And we must never forget what He calls pure and undefiled religion: “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). To Jesus, if we are seeking to be close to Him and to love others they way He does, we have the truest theology. When love is our theology and when we live it, it proves and grows itself.

May we participate in the dispersion of love instead of in useless discussions. And may we be so engulfed in love and grace and the spreading of it that we have no room left to speculate.

The way Paul ended his letter is a suitable ending for us, too:

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain.

Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.

Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.

(1 Timothy 6:3-6, 11, & 20-21, emphasis added)

Soul Food {July 2016}

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This month carried so many different things for me. A lot of things came out in media this month, too, and I’ve been enjoying good handfuls, so let’s talk about some of it!

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  • “Amazing” by Christian Collins. If this guy makes anything, you know I’m going to promote it. Love him and the positive presence he is in the world. [Also the video is so close to a million views oh my gosh!]
  • Anthem Lights, especially their Justin Bieber, Drake, and “Single Awareness” medleys. They also recently shared a Peace & Love medley, which I think is very special. They’re just good. These guys arrange things so well and all have seriously beautiful voices. I’ve been listening to a lot of their stuff lately. (Such as…)
  • Joey Stamper’s cover of “Jealous.” Killer. I don’t even the like the original song but I’ve listened to this so many times because dang that voice.
  • Switchfoot’s new “Where The Light Shines Through” album. This album… we need it. It could not have been released at a better time for us. My hands-down favorite from it is “If The House Burns Down Tonight” (dancing and tears at the same time), but I also like “Looking For America” featuring Lecrae and “Hope Is The Anthem.”
  • “Mountain” by Jeremiah Daly. There’s just something magical about it. Comforting yet somewhat heart-wrenching. The entire album is good, honestly; I use it as lullabies on anxious nights.
  • “Better This Way” by The Early November. A guy I went to college with basically goes to hardcore shows for a living (yes, I’m jealous, too), and this month he shared a clip of this band. I went on my little internet scavenger hunt, discovered this song, and kind of fell in love with it.
  • “Afraid” by Tenth Avenue North. People are coming out with such relevant music lately and I’m loving it. Pumped for this album. “Fear never told the truth.”
  • “Up In The Air” by Tilian. A friend played this for me during a car ride thinking I might like it; she thought correctly. The word “empowering” comes to mind.
  • Relient K’s “Air For Free” album. Why are so many bands putting out such good albums right now?! This might be Relient K at its finest; both uplifting and grounding. My favorite from it is “Man.” I also really like “Bummin'”, “Empty House”, “Flower”, and “Heartache.”
  • “You & I” by Colony House. Lyrically excellent, musically their signature alt-rock with some added retro vibes! I read it was recorded in one live take, which only adds to the retro factor. I’m loving what they’re doing. Their album comes out in September, and you can pre-order it right now!
  • “I’m Not Perfect. You’re Not Perfect. Let’s Hang Out!” by Tyler Ward. First: I think the title is super cute. Second, this song is fun and danceable, while also being a beautifully honest reminder that we’re all just doing our best and can do better together. I appreciate it so much.
  • “A Prayer” by Kings Kaleidoscope. Stunning, heartwrenching, powerful.

What’s that, you say? “Tessa. Come on now. I just want one convenient playlist with all of these songs.” No worries! Not only does this playlist have this month’s music choices, but the rest of my choices from this year so far are there, too! I know: “Tessa! That’s amazing! You’re the best!” I gotchu. [The Tyler Ward song isn’t on it because it is not on YouTube.]

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  • These brothers attempting to make artsy pancakes. Weirdly entertaining (teenage boys crack me up so bad, it’s probably a disease), and I kind of want to do this with my friends now.
  • America’s Got Talent. People are so diverse and interesting, and this show displays it. I love seeing people living in their passions.
  • Collins Key and the Merrell Twins doing the “Smoothie Challenge.” It’s gross but I laughed way too much. Their “Eat It or Wear It Challenge” is also gross and great.
  • Mike Donehey’s video journal for “Afraid.” He always speaks such truth. “Fear is just a consequence of believing a lie.”
  • The Vet Life. My dad told me he was shocked I wasn’t watching this, since it’s about veterinarians and I’m obsessed with animals. I wasn’t too interested in trying it, so imagine his surprise when I spent five hours one Saturday just enjoying seeing these fellow animal lovers take care of creatures and build relationships. They even share details about animal health and anatomy, which is just really interesting to me. [Although when they operate I definitely shield my eyes because I’m a sensitive nugget.]
  • “Tour of My Brain.” So clever. I definitely want to make something like this.
  • Christian Collins (yep I’m gonna talk about him again) creating a song out of instruments he’s never played before. First of all: how did he get so good at new instruments so fast?! Prodigy. Secondly: he makes me smile so, so much. The song is fantastic.
  • Still consistently watched Food Network Star as well as The Mentalist (although I might take a break from The Mentalist for a while because anxiety is dumb).

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  • “Dear You: 5 Brave Things to Keep in Your Pocket for Hard Days in a Hard World” by Ann Voskamp. This… this feels like someone lifting my chin up, looking into my face, and speaking life into my body. Such simple but HUGE things to remember and be in awe of. “Promise yourself you’ll remember this because you will need this most: You can always have as much as God as you want.”
  • “Love Looks Like: Choices” by Sarah Bessy. I’m not even close to married, but this moved me so deeply. A stunning exploration of being two people with different perspectives still unified in love. “Now it’s funny when people ask us sometimes, how do you weather major theological differences in your marriage? I don’t know if we did it the right way. Is there even a right way? I don’t know the right answer for every marriage but here is the answer that worked for us then and seems to still be working now: Choose each other. Turn towards one another.”
  • “Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from The South of France” by Kristin Espinasse. A fun coffee table book to pick up and get a taste of France and the French language every once in a while. [You can keep up with all of my book progress on Goodreads if you ever feel stalkerish; no worries, I get it.]
  • “Guard Your Gates,” also by Sarah Bessey. I love her way of explaining the balance of being guarded while not letting fear win in you. It is so important to understand.
  • “Book of a Thousand Days” by Shannon Hale. Hale wrote what my younger self craved in fiction, and I’m finding my current self still craves those things: a mystical setting, strong/complex characters, lovely thoughts sprinkled throughout the story, questions that make me keep reading because I must know the answers, even a little non-mushy love mixed in. This book pleased me so much.
  • “When We All Ache for Justice in The World” by Tim Stafford. This has lingered in my brain since I read it; it is ringing so true to me. When we want to talk about justice, so often we immediately shift the conversation to focus on injustice. What if, instead, we sought to focus on what justice actually looks like– restoration, healing, things set right?

The Fuel of Temptation: On Shame & Grace

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DSC05087I haven’t had to carry shame like what I’ve carried this week in such a long time. It’s been so loud.

This time last week, I had just told the world about my struggle to fully remove pornography’s influence from my life. Many were kind and life-speaking in response, and I’m so grateful for that; some had a harder time. I love them all, and this is still true: I heard once that if a person makes you feel fear or shame, it’s because that’s what they’re carrying. I think I believe that. And some accidentally passed shame and fear on to me when they said what they did.

When I stumbled and looked at porn three weeks ago, I was broken over it. Then I went to my Father, He held me close, and we started moving forward again. I was doing okay; I was focusing on things that were good and healthy for me and He was doing work in me. But after hurt-filled conversation about the fact I even had to recover from this… I started feeling afraid.

I felt so close to stumbling again, constantly on the edge, even though I had no desire for it. I began standing stagnant where I’d left off; shame was crippling my ability to move on, but more than that– the fear of stumbling was pushing me closer to actually stumbling. When I let fear and shame live in me again, they told me I was weak and dirty. It led me to believe I was likely to continue stumbling, because it was part of who I was; I was too weak and dirty to be different. I was incapable of doing better, they said.

Fear and shame never tell the truth. They were (…are) lying to me. The truth’s words are so much different.

Truth says that God loves to enter weakness; He has even been known to refuse the removal of weakness so that He can show His power through it. Truth says that God has led us to put on our new selves, and that He renews us consistently. Truth says that fear cannot live inside perfect love. Truth says that my judgement day has been moved from the future to the past because Jesus stood in my place and declared me holy and clean. This is the gospel. Anyone who believes shame has any place in me doesn’t know that shame cannot live in God’s house– or that I am that house.

At church this morning, I was in the worship service, and began remembering what worship services used to be like for me. I remembered how scared I used to be that I wasn’t meeting the standards God expected of me or that I was still far from Him whom I loved. And I realized that I used to struggle so much more frequently and intensely when shame and fear were part of my daily baggage. When I believed I was filthy and unworthy even after repentance, I stumbled much more often; I despised myself even more often than I stumbled. Shame was the fuel for my temptation. Just like what I experienced again this week.

When my focus shifted and I began to believe in and abide in God’s love for me, I stumbled remarkably less. I felt more full of life. And when I stopped believing God could be more proud of me and in love with me than He already was, I didn’t have to fear anything anymore. Nothing could touch who I was. God declares no shame for me, so none exists for me; He is God and He establishes what is true.

My mission was no longer removing my sin so He could love me; it was resting in His love so He could remove my sin. I’d had it backwards. I feared my sin, when I could have told my sin to fear what was being done in me.

The focus has to be grace. Anything that gives a “but” to grace doesn’t know what grace fundamentally is. Grace doesn’t follow any rules; it follows love. And love is what God is made of.

I am done with the false, finger-wagging, works-based god that was handed to me. Give me Jesus. Give me the healer and redeemer and lover of humanity, who doesn’t say “get out of that place” but “I will take your place.”

Yes, God wants the best for me; yes, my life should be lived in a manner worthy of the gospel; yes, I need to put in my best effort to overcome my struggles. But what I do is secondary to what He does. What I do cannot and will not save me. Christ and only Christ stops the flesh. It is all grace. All of it. We are not saying effort has no value. We are saying grace is of infinite value. Grace must be the focus. It must. Where you place your focus is what you walk toward.

When my focus is that He loves me and has my best in store, I am no longer afraid; instead, I rest. And He works in me, and when He asks me to do something I do it. But I no longer try to do everything. Because He tells me I don’t have to. I just listen and obey. And because of that, I no longer face anxiety but intimacy.

This week, I am going to my Father. I am going to submit to His work in me, for that is my work. And instead of drowning in the shame and fear others might try to place in my hands, I’m going to swim in the grace He’s given me to carry in it’s place.

“Grace is God’s best idea. Rather than tell us to change, He creates the change.”  -Max Lucado

 

Turning My Darkness to Light

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“Most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”  -Philippians 1:14

DSC04846We don’t like to vocalize our struggles until we feel they can be wrapped up somehow. Until it becomes part of our past, we don’t tell more than a few people (if that) about our most broken parts.

What happens when the past doesn’t stay there?

What happens when the past used to be a long time ago, but this year we stumbled, and the past became February? And what happens when February turns into five days ago?

All week, I have known my recent stumble demanded a new response from me. I learned a lot last month about what it means to be real; I value no-exception honesty in people more and more every day, and have gained unspeakable comfort and strength from those who vocalize the raw, unfinished pieces of themselves. I cannot escape the knowledge that there is power in being wholly genuine in every context I find myself. Even Scripture has encouraged me to bare it all, has said, “When anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.

Our darkness becomes light when we shine light on it.

Light can only enter broken things, after all.

I can feel my heart pound wildly against my chest at the thought of the freedom I would be walking in if I just released everything… including the parts I don’t want you to see. But I’ve been afraid. People can generally accept someone’s messy past. But a messy present? One that may or may not go away soon… if ever? It scares us. Because it’s imperfect and we can’t fix it with our usual, one-size-fits-all answers.

I used to be afraid of the struggles of others. But when I stopped denying the existence of my own, when I couldn’t ignore them anymore, I found such comfort in the company of those who were openly imperfect. Even if they weren’t physically with me, I knew they were with me. I knew I wasn’t the only one dealing with garbage like mine.

It is time for me to be that company for others, too.

I have to bring my darkness out into the light. For me, but also for you. It might scare you once you see it; it might make you leave me, or attempt to fix me with no result. Those are deep fears I keep running into as I write this. But… what if it helps heal you instead? It might do that, too. It might embrace you, or spark some measure of hope in you. Because you might remember it when you think you have to hide your own struggles, when you think you have to deal with them by yourself. And it might lead you to accept the open arms of your Father more readily. I know this because others shining light on their garbage has done the same for me.

You are not the only one. You are not the only one who tries but doesn’t always succeed; who has been doing well but knows they could fall again; who still deals with things they hate, things they know should belong in the past. I’m here, too. I’m with you.

And here is what I have in my garbage right now: lust and pornography.

I accidentally found porn around three years ago. It horrified me, and I sobbed into my Father afterwards, repentant and deeply pained. It truly was an accident. But months later, in one weak moment… I remembered how easy it had been to find. So I found it again. On purpose this time. And it horrified me, and I repented in deep sincerity once again.

This cycle has repeated itself since. My Father has forgiven me and welcomed me immediately each time. He has never condemned me. Instead, He has comforted me, and let me weep inside Him as my shame and disgust overwhelmed me. He has promised to teach me to renew my mind, and has done so much in restoring me.

And I still struggle.

I deal with lust in some form on an almost daily basis, but it’s only been twice this year that I have given in to pornography: once in February and once last week. But twice still feels like so many, because I know there shouldn’t be any instances of this in my life anymore. Both times, I have written to a friend I go to for accountability, and lamented: “I thought it was gone. It had been so long, I thought I was finally rid of it. How did I get here again?”

I hate pornography. I hate the industry, I hate the effects it has on us psychologically and physically, I hate the perversion it displays of something that was made to be pure and dazzling. I hate it with the deepest passion. Yet I have consumed it twice this year. I consumed it last week, even with all I know. And I don’t know if this time was finally the last.

I believe there will be a last time. God has kept His promise to rework my evil intentions into good things for His glory, making me stronger with new revelations every time I have failed. I just don’t know when that last time will be. I hoped it would be February, and it wasn’t. Now I hope it will be last week. It could be. But I honestly don’t know. Not one piece of me wants pornography in my life, but what happened last week that somehow made me feel differently? I don’t understand it. I hate fearing the ticking of a time bomb inside me, never knowing when or if it could go off. Because I know I have control over my actions… yet I do what I hate.

This is where I am today. I’m emerging from grieving my sin. I’m wrestling with what it means to be a human being with flesh warring against my soul. And I’m exposing my darkness so it can become light. Altogether, I am learning how to live in freedom. Freedom from my struggles, but another kind of freedom, too– the freedom that comes from living fully in the truth, without hiding anything and without fearing what others might see in me.

My unsightly pieces are visible to you now. But I hope when you look at me, they aren’t what you see. Instead… I hope you see a companion. I hope you see there is so much more to me than my struggles, that my garbage is not who I am– and that the same is true for you.

We have let fear and shame keep us from our freedom and from each other for too long. It’s time we take back our ground. We have been given the gift of being able to bear each other’s burdens and walk toward healing together; I don’t want to forsake that anymore.

I am with you. I am with you.

And we are still fully loved, even as we are fully known.

We get to learn how to live in our freedom now. One stumble and one step at a time.

Soul Food {June 2016}

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The first month of my summer was both weird and wonderful; I hope the rest of my summer is even more so. I learned quite a bit about the kind of art that’s special to me, so you’ll see some of that represented here.

Musicnf....

  • NF’s “Therapy Session” album. Yes, I mentioned him last month; yes, I’m still 100% obsessed. Every track is truly so good and so powerful. I am such a big fan of his. A few current favorites from the album are “Real”, “I Can Feel It”, “Wish You Wouldn’t”, and “Got You On My Mind.”
  • I’ve also been listening to NF’s “Mansion” album. I was going to list my favorites from it and had actually started to, but I genuinely was naming nearly every song on the album. It is just so good. Although I will say, if you only listen to one song from this album, make it the title track. I love all the others, but this one… we need it. [P.S., I might see him live in the fall and am so giddy about it!]
  • “Fireflies” and “Verge” (ft. Aloe Blacc) by Owl City. Nostalgia and just fun (I have to dance to “Verge” every single time). I can’t hate on Owl City.
  • Louisa Wendorff’s cover/mashup of “Never Forget You” and “Close,” featuring Anthem Lights. “Hey Tessa when are you gonna stop talking about Louisa–” NEVER! She is a huge inspiration to me. Beautiful harmonies on this, in which she created a cohesive story from the songs like she always does because she’s the queen of mashups.
  • Speaking of Anthem Lights, their Drake medley is fantastic. I’m not a Drake fan but I really enjoyed this.
  • “All Of God’s Children” by Jon Foreman. The lyrics are so, so important.
  • “Waking Up Again” by Emily Hearn. Sweeping, homey, uplifting; the kind of music I can nestle into.
  • “Bluebird” by Esme Patterson. I don’t quite know how to explain it, but the sound itself of this song is encouraging to me; it’s just a kind and welcoming melody that picks me up. Lyrically lovely, too.
  • “Stone Cold” by Demi Lovato. I don’t normally listen to Demi, but when I heard this song I was stunned by it. Her vocals are crazy, the piano is haunting, and the emotion is so transparent. I’m working on learning the piano!
  • “You Know It” by Colony House. My favorite band released a new single, from their upcoming new album, so of course I’m going to share it! They’re putting out some 1960s rock vibes, and I’m into it.

If you want a playlist with all this music, I have one for you! It features all my 2016 Soul Food picks so far, so this month’s are near the bottom.

Movies/YouTube/TV3cbc2a223cc88e99d0f4533904c5582e

  • The music video to “I Luv Rap Music” by dc Talk. It’s horrible in the most wonderful way. Friends might say it captures my essence (hahaha!).
  • Zootopia. Both a cute film with clever design and writing, and an important film sharing that we don’t need to fear others and treat them differently; we’re all the same inside. I love what Disney has been telling our kids lately.
  • Mike Donehey’s new video journal. I love this. I’ve always been bothered by Christian culture telling me I have to be a leader; the fact that Jesus asks for followers brings such comfort.
  • Sleeping Beauty. Its art and music are such consistent sources of wonder for me; I watch it when I need to get into an inspired headspace.
  • Robin Hood. I fall into a classic Disney animation mood sometimes. This lovely film captures fairytale wonder and the influence of 1970s art/music, which happen to be two things I really enjoy.
  • “The Inspiration Shake” on New Age Creators. A practical yet poetic and cute look at some simple self care for creatives.
  • “Food Network Star.” Because I’m a nerd and the contestants are interesting. Also Rhett and Link were guest judges once and it was incredible.
  • Lecrae’s TEDtalk, “Heroes and Villains: Is Hip-Hop A Cancer or A Cure?” I think this history of hip-hop and the culture it was born from is so, so important. He articulated it excellently.

Books/Blogs/Articlesmy afternoon

  • “Me Before You” by Jojo Moyes. I have a slight rant about this novel. You can read it on my Goodreads if you’d like.
  • “Rejoice and Be Sad” by Shannan Martin. I just found comfort in this reminder that sadness is an emotion we have to feel and isn’t an indicator of how well we’re doing in life.
  • “About Those ’20 Minutes of Action:’ 20 Things We’d Better Tell Our Sons Right Now About Being Real Men” by Ann Voskamp. The truth living in this post is powerful and vital.
  • “Anne of Avonlea” by L.M. Montgomery. My first experience with this series is going so well; every character is such a delight, and Anne teaches me about myself.
  • The Bible Students Say Twitter account. An anonymous Biblical Studies professor tweets cringey lines from students’ papers, and it’s gold. And sometimes terrifying.
  • “Reclaiming ‘That Girl'” on Dear Woman. “‘That girl’ has become the poster child for too much. Too emotional, too loud, too needy, too picky. And I am convinced it has to stop. Every time we negatively refer to ‘that girl,’ there is an actual girl we are condemning.”